Tips for Travelers Visiting Paris During Labor Strikes

Tips for Travelers Visiting Paris During Labor Strikes
Yes, strikes are bound to happen each and every year; and they can be irritating unless you have alternate plans. Unions are required to give public notice of strike dates, hoping for a settlement before a labor strike, but also to give people time to make alternative plans. What groups are currently threatening to strike and why? Some rapid transit strikes are more of a slowdown than a complete work stoppage. Several grèves were planned by people upset by President Sarkozy’s plans to raise the age workers can collect pension benefits. It’s expected pending legislation will increase the age of eligiblity for partial retirement benefits from age 60 to 62. Full benefits won’t kick in until age 67 rather than the current 65. It’s in keeping with other countries in the E.U., but that doesn’t mean the French (or anyone else) wouldn’t protest such retroactive change. Mainly salaried and union workers have the most to lose. Senior management tends to work until they are older because they like the income and retirement benefits aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. Who supports strikers? When strikes are called, it’s tout à fait évident that students get in on the action. They have plenty to complain about, like many students worldwide. French students don’t like the lack of facilities, the huge classes where a talking head lectures at the auditorium’s podium and perhaps some of the classes are a wee bit cold during winter months. What many visitors don’t understand is that in France strikes are an accepted way of life and a much-privileged right. The French are fairly copacetic unless a strike blocks them from reaching their destination. What happens at public “manifestations?” Most strike manifestations take the form of parades, complete with marching bands and food trucks intermingled among the crowds. If the sun is shining, they can feel more like a 4th of July fête in the U.S. of A. Sometimes large crowds of all ages assemble for speeches; often they march with signs, banners and bearing slogans on their clothing. Causes can be anything from rights for working mothers, animals, retirees, disabled persons, immigrants, lifestyle and religious choices, political causes related to France or any country in the world, grievances or celebrations and so on. Sometimes you even find groups protesting the frequency of strikes—the “anti-strike” strikers, if you will. Some French people joke that protests are a national pastime in France, but again, they generally consider strikes an important right.   Streets may be blocked by humans standing, marching or sitting; other times vehicles or objects form blockades. You may hear chanting, drumming, singing, rally cries, speeches and music (amplified or otherwise) or all of this or none when demonstrators choose somber silence. Most are scheduled in advance by labor unions and groups that want large turn-outs, and most are peaceful, if not aggravating when your bus or taxi is stuck behind the group. Police in riot gear are usually at the sidelines, but they do engage at times. If you’re on foot and you encounter a manifestation, take your cues from the locals: if they’re watching with curiosity, feel free to do the same. Always be discreet with cameras and it’s considered rude and even dangerous to take photos of some hot gatherings. Use your street smarts; walk away and beware of pickpockets who prey on distracted visitors when given the opportunity in any large crowd anywhere in the world.                     How will a strike affect you and other travelers? Okay, so let’s say you’re in Paris and are worried you’ll be stranded. You probably won’t be stranded unless you’re mobility challenged. Even then, choose a café and watch the world go by while you read a book or view Paris as living theater. We asked our Facebook readers to share their experiences with strikes in France. Most reported minor inconveniences with public transportation; some said advance notice of scheduled strikes allowed them to make other transportation plans. When trash collectors went on an extended strike in 2001, bulldozers filled alleys with mounds of rubbish. Métro and bus strikes and alternative modes of transit Public transit strikes are usually announced in advance, but a foreign visitor who doesn’t speak French can easily miss such announcements. Sometimes your hotel will post a notice or slip a note under your door to let you know. A Paris Métro or bus strike usually means reduced frequency on main routes or your Métro car or bus may stop for a few minutes. A public address announcement may or may not be heard in the vehicle or on the platform; the bus stop digital sign may have the notice, but not always. You may encounter huge crowds if you’re about to board the last scheduled ride before a work stop or nobody at all. When cashiers or those who stock the automated ticket dispensing machines go on strike, it’s free rides for all. In the photo to the…
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