How people power during a bin strike helped end a union's dominance in Marseille

By Olivier Bertrand

A 16-day strike by refuse collectors has just come to an end in the southern French city of Marseille. It was the third such stoppage there in three months and on the surface it was yet another routine dispute involving municipal staff in a city that is no stranger to industrial strife. But in reality the deal struck between the local authority and union officials, which came amid growing anger from local residents at the state of the Mediterranean city's streets, has ended an unwritten and cosy arrangement between City Hall and a favoured trade union that stretches back more than seven decades. Some observers have described the outcome as no less than a “revolution”. Olivier Bertrand explains.

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On the surface it might look like just another refuse collection strike in Marseille. This 16-day stoppage was, after all, the third such dispute in the space of three months over the working hours of garbage collectors in the major Mediterranean port city. But in reality, say observers, a social revolution has taken place. Indeed, the agreement reached on Wednesday February 2nd between the Aix-Marseille-Provence metropolitan authority and the Force Ouvrière (FO) trade union represents an unprecedented challenge to a political-union system that goes back more than 70 years. And it was brought about through a mixture of people power, politics – and a little help from a strong wind.