Ancient history

Right to strike (Émile Ollivier law) and trade union right (Waldeck-Rousseau law)

Last updated:2022-07-25
  • Le Chapelier Law 1791:prohibition of professional coalitions and strikes.
  • Promulgation of the Penal Code of Napoleon I st in 1810:associations of more than 20 people are subject to government approval and labor coalitions aiming to stop work or change wages are severely repressed.
  • The law of November 27, 1849 confirms the prohibition of the right to strike under the presidency of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. It constitutes a criminally punishable offence.

May 24, 1864 and March 21, 1884


Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte

Emile Ollivier

Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau

Jean Jaures

Maurice Thorez


During the 19 th century, the strike appears as the weapon of the masses and often takes on a revolutionary character (strike of the canuts of Lyon in 1831). Under the Second Empire, a labor movement developed and Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte took great interest in it. While he hopes to rally his regime to the popular masses, he decides to grant the workers some of the freedoms they demand. The granting of the right to strike is recognized by the law of May 24, 1864, reported by the Republican deputy Émile Ollivier. However, this right always constitutes a breach of the employment contract and can also justify the dismissal of the striking employee or the intervention of the armed forces. With the advent of the III th Republic, the so-called Waldeck Rousseau law of March 21, 1884 recognizes the right to organize. However, the fact of a strike is still subject to the discretion of the employers.


  • Trade unionism in France progressed at the beginning of the XX th century, and the strikes of 1936 lead to the Matignon agreements:trade union rights are recognized (2 weeks of paid leave, 40-hour week, reform of the law of collective agreements).
  • The right to strike and the right to organize become constitutional principles:they are enshrined in the preamble to the 1946 Constitution. It has therefore taken almost a century and a half since the Declaration of the Rights of Man and citizen so that they are considered as public freedoms.
  • The law of February 11, 1950 specifies that a strike cannot be a reason for terminating the employment contract (except in the event of gross negligence on the part of the employee).
  • Initially prohibited for civil servants, the right to organize and the right to strike are gradually being recognized. However, the right to strike remains restricted for general interest considerations and the necessary maintenance of a minimum public service.
  • Restrictions can be made in terms of the right to strike with regard to “unlawful” strikes (occupation of premises, go-slows, etc.).
  • The right to strike and the right to organize have led to many events that have marked contemporary history:the Renault strikes (1947-1948), the 1936 strikes, the May 1968 strikes and the Grenelle agreements...

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