Every day is a good day for a strike in France
In February during our first day walking around Pau we learned that strikes are not just a Parisian thing, but a quintessentially French thing. A large group of high school students were on strike, being ushered around town in the middle of the day by a band of paternal police officers. They were cutting classes to push education reform – fledgling Frenchlings learning the traditions of their people.
Strikes are a part of French life, French culture. The government will ruffle SOMEBODY’s feathers every time it tries to change something, and somebody else’s feathers whenever it changes nothing, so strikes are a constant inevitability.
In the general strike that took place today, October 12th (the 4th such strike in the past month), it seemed quite a few people’s feathers were ruffled. Strikers took to the street mid-morning all across France to protest changes that the Sarkozy government is attempting to make to retirement law.
The government is trying to raise the earliest age you can retire from 60 to 62, and the earliest age you can retire with a full pension from 65 to 67. The government is doing this to be able to keep a AAA credit rating and continue to get low-interest loans. Many people are pretty upset about this plan and feel that they are being made to pay for the economic crisis, and for the errors of big business and government. The government DOES need to cut spending – however the workers feel that they should not be the one’s to take that cut. It’s a tough call.
So the battle will be played out in the streets of France. Who knows how long it will go on.
The strike in Pau today was lively. The streets were packed with a snaking swell of people playing hooky from work, parading in a circle around the city.
Lots of companies, unions and groups were represented today. One of my favorite groups is the anarchists, who are always surprising organized.
And you really know the French mean serious business if their chocolatiers are on strike. “No more fine Lindt chocolates until the government meets our demands!”
Young and old joined the throng.
Even pets made their feelings known.
Some people looked grim and serious and had real messages and grievances to share.
Other people were just having a great time.
The unions are claiming that 22,000 people took to the streets of Pau. While I think that is a pretty large stretch of numbers, there were definitely many thousands of people.
Here is what just 10 minutes of the strike looked like:
The amazing thing to think about is that this is what it looked like in every single town, in every single city across France today. One third of the national trains were running, less in rural areas, and only 50% of the flights. Schoolteachers were striking, the ports were being blockaded and the work in many companies was practically at a standstill. The unions certainly know how to put the pressure on. We’ll see how the drama unfolds.
I will have my own personal strike drama tomorrow as I try to figure out how to get from Pau to London during a rail strike. Planning ahead and buying affordable tickets does not help the savvy traveler much in the case of a strike. So I’ll be heading to the train station around 5 or 6 AM to see if there’s a lone train I can hitch a ride on heading north. Wish me luck!