Thursday, November 22, 2007
I suppose with today being Thanksgiving and all, I could say that I am thankful that the SNCF (the French national railways) and the government have finally started seriously negotiating an end to the strike. This means that the trains are/should be running more often, in particular the ones that will get me to the Gare du Nord tomorrow so that I can go visit friends in Germany. The métro, however, is still striking up to their ears, and the commuters have had it up to their eyeballs. Everyone is complaining, way above and beyond the normal French penchant for griping.
I think what it all comes down to is this. No one minds a strike. Strikes are part of what makes France, France. Strikes are an expression of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité. Strikes are Gallic performance art. What people mind is when strikes make people who have nothing to do with the issues at hand suffer. I tend to agree. I mean, what ever happened to worker solidarity? Why should Joe or Josette Shmoe have to lose money/time/customers because the railway workers want to retire before everyone else? Joe and Josette are workers too. If transit employees really wanted to show which side they were on, they would simply let everyone on the trains and buses for free. This would have the dual benefit of totally pissing off the government and making everyone a big fan of transit strikes. But no. When this scenario is suggested by callers on TV panel discussions, the labor experts just scrunch up their faces and talk about something else.
Because the fact is, the strikers are victims of the same sort of administrative rigor-mortis as the government. This is the way they have been doing transit strikes ever since the government first started trying to reform retirement policy in the public sector, which from what I understand was several decades ago. One of the more disturbing aspects of French strikes is that every time a strike is called, you have the feeling you are watching reruns. The same sectors scream about the same issues, and in the end, nothing seems to get resolved. What’s more, nobody seems to understand what exactly is going on. If you ask your average French person what the underlying issues are, usually no one can get much farther than what they have read in the headlines, and most will simply shake their head in despair and say “I have no idea, I just want it to be over.” Because for some reason, despite the barrels of ink being spilled on the subject, and the endless analysis in the media, no one seems to be able to clearly, objectively explain what the two sides are arguing about.
Clearly I’m getting just as cranky as everyone else about all this. I nearly blew a gasket when my husband’s nephew tried to tell me that the students were striking because the proposed university reforms call for “American style” universities run by private enterprises. I told him that unless I’ve been brainwashed by Martians, I am certain that American universities are not run by private enterprises and that if anyone suggested such a thing there would be even more students in the street over there. After an hour or so of Internet research I managed to find an explanation of the proposed university law…as near as I can figure, what’s got everyone riled up is the concept of fundraising, which is virtually unknown over here. Oh I don’t know. I just want it to be over.