A VOLATILE mix of an unresponsive government and a working
population jarred by fundamental social and economic changes once
again threatened to bring much of France to a halt this week.
But even as the last striking truckers gave up their 10-day-old
roadblocks yesterday and allowed traffic to return to normal,
observers warned that future cases of social gridlock are
inevitable unless workers and public officials both make an effort
to understand and negotiate in a new and fast-changing economic
"Right now it's the truckers and farmers, but the profound
societal changes we're seeing are widespread and for the long
term," says Renaud Sainsaulieu, a noted French sociologist.
"Without better representatives on all sides with an ability to
understand and discuss a changing world, there will be more such
As the French truckers' roadblocks left Spanish beaches empty of
northern tourists and British factories idle, neighbors said
France's crossroads position in an increasingly integrated European
economy made such obstacles intolerable.
French truckers ended dozens of roadblocks across the country
after government ministers negotiated a revision of worktime
provisions and accepted some changes in a controversial new
Ostensibly, the truck drivers began their blockage of principal
roadways nearly two weeks ago over the licenses which link driving
infractions with license revocation. But observers including Mr.
Sainsaulieu say the more crucial underlying problem is increasingly
difficult working conditions tied to economic changes.
"Behind it all is the growth of just-in-time manufacturing,
demanding schedules for deliveries, and a greater reliance on truck
transport," says Sainsaulieu.
With the government failing to anticipate the reaction the new
license system would cause, and with the largely independent
truckers operating without unions or other traditional negotiating
organizations, the recipe for spontaneous action was complete,
Other observers note that the truckers' lack of any union or
leadership inevitably exacerbated attempts at negotiation.
"The state and management no longer have the established
interlocutors they once did," says Pascal Perrineau, director the
Center for the Study of French Political Life.
The weakening of time-tested negotiating organizations was also
evident last month during French farmers' unsuccessful attempt to
paralyze Paris with their tractors. …