The importance of trade unions in the major defining event of French political life, at a time when France is recognised as having the lowest unionisation rate (around 9%) in the industrial world, may seem rather dubious. But in a country with a traditionally low propensity to join parties and associations and participate in political activism, trade unions remain the single largest form of organised collective action. A membership of around two million may be dramatically low in comparison with France’s neighbours (the single largest confederation in Germany, IG Metall, covering only the metal-working industry, boasts more members) but it still dwarfs membership of political parties; the largest confederation alone (the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, CFDT) has more members than all France’s parties put together. Opinion polls continue to show that a large majority of French people view the trade union movement as indispensable to the practice of democracy. This is not to deny that French trade unions face a crisis of legitimacy. Indeed, the question of their relationship with the political world, which was raised during the 1995 elections with renewed acuity, placed further pressure on the trade unions to define and justify their role. This questioning of the trade unions’ position within the polity and within wider society formed the backdrop to events as they related to the trade unions in 1995.