I was told early on that in France, striking and protesting was a national pastime, similar to baseball in America. This seems to be true as every few weeks there is word of the upcoming transit strike. My experience is that it is barely an inconvenience, if noticeable at all. The “strike” here does not mean that the trains don’t run, it means that one out of three run. And for a transit system where the trains are usually 4 minutes apart and run on time, it is hard to even tell. It seems as if this is more an issue for those wanting to come into Paris or leave the city, with the light rails running less frequently, if at all.
The recent strikes have to do with Sarkozy wanting to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. I have been wanting to make it to one of these strikes first hand to put it on my “shit I did while I was living in Paris” resume. When Millz was here we just missed one, but reports of the turnouts have been around one or one and a half million. That’s a lot of fucking people. And as the numbers grow, the number of syndicates that join also grow. The recent additions were college and high schoolers as well as truckers. The latest protests were a few days ago and I made there in time.
The first thing that struck me, aside from the sheer volume of people in one place at one time (It made the Philles World Series parade look like amateur hour. The closest thing was streets of Berlin in 2006 during the World Cup playoffs.) was the people that were protesting and marching. In the US it tends to be extremists, on one end of the spectrum or the other. Or angry kids who need a reason to cause havoc. Today, it looked like the Parisian equivalent of Middle America. It wasn’t the fringes, it was everyone. It was probably the closest public demonstration of solidarity and unity I have ever seen. We are talking almost two million people.
With the truck drivers protesting they have cut off gas supplies. As of today it is being reported over 4,000 gas stations in France are closed because they are out of gas. Someone yesterday said they waited two hours in line to get gas. And they are saying they could start blockading food. Things could get a lot worse. For the government if they don’t buckle, and for the people if they do.
Today’s demonstrations in France are rumored to be over 5 million people. The Senate votes Thursday. This is a big deal for the country. As we sat at a cafe yesterday the French woman who sat next to me remarked on how proud she was of the people of France. She told me how disappointed she was in her government.
Then she asked where I was from.
It’s also interesting to point out the level of outrage from a country whose minimum wage is the equivalent of $12.22 compared to the US’s $7.25, full-time work is 35 hours a week, and you start with 5 weeks of paid vacation a year. The point isn’t that the French are pansies as much as it that Americans are suckers. At least when the French think they are getting shafted they take action. Look at the past 9 years and the atrophy of civil liberties and rights and you barely her a peep from Americans when our own Constitutional and Civil Rights rights are stripped by our own government.