Workers’ Strikes in the Paris Region in 1968: Continuities and Discontinuities


1 June 2012


Volume 1 – Number

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Michael Seidman



Many analysts have regarded the workers’ strikes in the Paris region as the apex of the workers’ movement in Western Europe during the 1960s. In terms of numbers of strikers and media coverage, the work stoppages were undoubtedly the most spectacular of the decade. However, the 1968 Paris-area strikes did not break with the established patterns of stoppages in twentieth-century France. As during the Popular Front of the late 1930s, the momentary weakness of the state—which the student movement provoked in 1968 (not electoral politics as in 1936)—helped to launch the wave. The overwhelming majority of strikes were not “wildcats” (grèves sauvages) since the unions played a major role in both their initiation and termination. The great mass of strikers showed much less interest in autogestion than in material demands. The gains from this strike wave especially benefited the lowest-paid workers—youth, women, and immigrants—who received significantly higher pay and fewer working hours. Consumerism played a paradoxical role in both fomenting worker demands and acting as a socially cohesive force which induced them to return to work, but a powerful state—following the counterrevolutionary Republican tradition—supplemented consumerism by defending property and the “right to work.”


Strikes, Paris Region, 1968, Unions, Consumerism