French Strikes Diminish as Reforms Near Completion

French Strikes Diminish as Reforms Near Completion
As French strikes continued for a 7th day (not consecutive, but a 7th day of action), unions and protesters were out in fewer numbers and less force. This should not come as a surprise, as the government has successfully passed the reform bill in both the Assemblée Nationale (the “House”) and the Sénat. It will now go to President Sarkozy to sign into law, becoming effective likely in mid-November. But at what price? Le Monde gives a very thorough breakdown of the strike action, key stats and perhaps the biggest one of all is Sarkozy’s popularity level: an obscene 26%. His hyperactive personality and audacious move to do away with the symbolic 60 years as retirement age certainly have contributed to this historically low level of approval. This does not bode well for his re-election hopes, but it is still too early to know how he will be viewed in 2012 when the French take to the polls again. Logistically, how is France faring now? Oil refineries are opening back up, as workers are heading back to their jobs after strikes blocked the refineries around the country. All 12 refineries will be open now. But as of Thursday there were still about 20% of service stations with a shortage of fuel, thereby impacting those taking the long Toussaint weekend for travel. There were minor disturbances on the transport systems of the major cities in France and on the SNCF railways, but overall there was less action this time around. Indeed, even the liberal Libération conceded a weak turnout, saying the movement “was on leave” but that the unions would likely strike back again. But conservative Figaro says that given the low turnout, there are doubts about the momentum of the movement. Figaro also put out a great graphic comparing retirement systems across countries. So far, strike action is still planned for Saturday Nov. 6. I will update my blog on the strike situation for transport, and you can also find information on SNCF here and other info from France 24. If you are flying, call your airline company for specific information on flight cancelations and delays. For public transport options from Paris airports to downtown, check out this site, knowing that during strikes, it is best to avoid the RER B and opt for another choice. To end, I leave you with two insightful pieces – albeit from an “Anglo-Saxon” perspective – about the French strikes. The first one from BBC News compares strikers in France to those in other countries. Then The Economist writes that strike action is less powerful than it used to be: “Mr Sarkozy took a bet that there was a silent majority prepared to accept change, however much they disliked it. It looks like paying off.” Michael Barrett is a communications consultant, freelance translator and English teacher. He writes a must-read blog for expats called American Expat In France. Paris Shuttle will whisk you to and from the airport and other locations.

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