Strike Hype

So I should confess that I’ve mostly avoided any experience of the strikes here in Paris.  I flew out of Paris on December 4th for a long-planned holiday Down Under.  The next day, the strikes began.  I just arrived back a few days ago and the strikers, worn down by almost a month with no pay, have mostly given up.  Just yesterday all the métro lines were running (albeit for a limited service).

There are knock-on effects of a métro strike, of course.  With everyone pushed out of reliable public transportation, e-scooters (called trottinettes) are in high demand.  I spent 15 minutes yesterday walking to try to get a scooter and I was checking three different scooter apps as I did so.  So too today when I was taking the tram (3b) it was absolutely packed like I’ve never seen it before.

Friends have been messaging, asking about the strikes, and I try to remind them that just like the Gilet Jaunes, the international news media are in full hype mode.  The Gilet Jaunes have been in nonstop decline since their very first protest in November 2018.  French people (somewhat) understandably sided with them on the fuel tax, the government u-turned, and the public promptly lost interest.  Parisians have dealt with these outsiders showing up to our city (often committing acts of violence) week after week for over a year, but in ever dwindling numbers.  It’s all well and good to boast that it’s the XXth consecutive week of striking…but most of us go about our Saturdays not even remembering that anyone is striking about anything.

And as for this current transportation strike, it was again at its worst at the beginning, but it has been in nonstop decline ever since.  Public support continues to decline and the number of drivers returning to work continues to increase.  The problem is one of leverage.  The strikers thought that Macron would U-turn, but he didn’t, which meant everyone’s Christmas and New Year’s were affected.  There are no holidays in January, just people trying to work, and I haven’t met a single French person who would march in solidarity with the RATP workers for a “right to retire at 52.”  Sorry kids, life expectancy has gone up, which means you have to work longer, just like the rest of us do.  If Macron didn’t give in for Christmas, why would he give in now?

The strike has also hit hardest in Paris, as public transport in the other big cities of France is fully operational, and SNCF trains are now running at 85% of regular capacity or higher.  Can it go on much longer?  The question is how much have the transportation workers saved up.  There was a much bragged-about crowdfunder the other day that raised 1,000,000 euros for the workers, but if you divide that 1000 ways, you only have 1000 euros each, and there may be even more than 1000 workers staying out on an extended strike.  1000 euros isn’t going to make up for a month of missed pay that will not be paid in arrears whenever this ends.

What has impressed me is the willingness of the Parisians to just get on with things.  They are carpooling, buying or renting e-scooters, using the Vélib system, using the (more available than metros) buses, or simply walking more.  There’s also, in the background, the reality that lines 1 and 14 (which are run by computers, not humans) have been running for 100% of the entire strike, and with station upgrades for lines 4 and 11 which happened all of last year, we can’t be too far off from a future when automated lines remove the last bit of pressure these unions can apply.  The 2024 Olympics which we will host are creating an environment to accelerate the building of lines for express trains from Orly and CDG to come directly into the city.  We might see the same thing happen with the métro lines as well.

One thing remains clear to me, the media always manage to hype things up enough that my friends outside of France are more worried about the situation than those of us actually living here.  It’s just a strike.  The problem with the French doing it so often is that, like any “threat,” the overuse leads to indifference.  You can’t scare anyone in France with a strike, not least of whom, it seems, President Macron.

We will see what happens…

The photo is from a 2007 strike, on the line 9 stop for the Franklin Roosevelt station.

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4 thoughts on “Strike Hype

  1. Depending on where you live, the strike will affect you differently,
    Living at the Musee Galleria, I have had no transport on Saturday for one year. I am a woman, who does not ride trottinettes, and in fact hate them, they have made Paris completely unsafe from arrogant people and tourists who ride them illegally on the side walk. Often with two people on one. Also illegal. There is no enforcement of these laws and it is not safe to walk . People drink and also ride them. You young people think these chinese inventions are great, while in reality they are ruining city life for residents. Here and many cities. They are HATED. By residents.
    The strikes have made life a pain in the derrière for everyday people who need to travel to and from work with no metro walking long distances by foot to work and back in cold and rain. Its No picnic. When the buses run there are 100 people crammed in, and people are no longer polite. Its not an option for me.
    Yes, I agree that a reform is needed. But, its not easy with the strike, and I might add with the strikes for the second Christmas in a row, mom and pop shops are decimated with loss of buisness. Paris’ fabric is completely changed and not for the better.

    • Sevigne

      Respectfully, you are speaking for yourself as a Paris resident. There are many other residents, like myself, who do not HATE the trottinettes but rather LOVE them and many of the riders now ride on the street. Often they ride on the sidewalk when they run into cobbled streets.

      If you want to blame anyone for the strikes, blame the CGT. They are the ones who led it. Thankfully, they lost and have started to realize how out of touch they are with people who live here.

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