Not much left in the tank

Reforms and budget cuts seem to be the norm across the world. In the UK, we’ve seen announcements about substantial cuts in government spending and reforms to our welfare state, including child benefit and pension reforms. But how will people react? Perhaps, we should look to France to see what could be to come. People across the country are protesting against the plan to raise the pension age from 60 to 62.

Workers at French oil refineries have ceased work and, as as a result, shortages of petrol across France look set to continue. There has been mass disruption to various transport markets, including cancelled flights and lorry drivers using ‘go-slow tactics’.

Furthermore, it’s not just workers at oil refineries who are on strike. Rubbish remains uncollected; oil tankers are floating off the coast; rail strikes and postal strikes have disrupted daily life; and even the school system has been affected. But, what are the costs of these strikes? Will the French economy suffer? Will economic growth be affected? It’s certainly an inefficient use of resources and will undoubtedly cost money.

Yet, despite these strikes, the President has said that the reforms will still go ahead, as he looks forward to a Senate vote on the pension bill. But what are the problems necessitating pension reform, not just in France, but across the world? And will it be France’s turn to experience a ‘winter of discontent’?

French strikes force petrol stations to shut BBC News (18/10/10)
Defiant Marseille, heart of France’s social unrest Reuters (18/10/10)
French Fuel Crisis: Protests turn violent Sky News, Huw Borland (18/10/10)
JPMorgan says French strike will cut demand for oil next year Bloomberg, Grant Smith (18/10/10)
French strikes hit airlines, trucking, gas pipes Philippine Star (19/10/10)
French riot police clash with students as petrol stations run dry Telegraph, Henry Samuel (18/10/10)
French based for another day of strike action Guardian, Angelique Chrisafis (18/10/10)
France strike: flights cancelled, airlines told to carry enough fuel for return journey Telegraph (18/10/10)


  1. What action other than striking is open to workers? What are the costs and benefits of each?
  2. Why are strikes by groups of workers likely to be more effective than protests by individual workers?
  3. Illustrate on a diagram the effect of a trade union entering an industry. How does it affect equilibrium wages and equilibrium employment? Is there any difference if the trade union faces a monopsonist employer of labour?
  4. What are the efficiency arguments against strike action?
  5. How are oil prices determined? What will be the impact on oil prices of these strikes in France? Will there be an impact on the rest of the world?
  6. What are the key issues necessitating pension reform? Are these issues worth the price of the strikes?