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After Oct. 12th’s strikes throughout the country, unions are congratulating themselves on a strong turnout of 1.2 million (police estimates) to 3.5 million (union estimates) people in the streets. This week public transport has been interrupted in several cities and on the national rail network run by SNCF (not to mention Air France flights and the main Paris airports), so travel has not been easy.
As it stands currently, SNCF still has delays and cancelations. You can see info on this in French on their website Infolignes under the menu “Prévisions”. This includes TGV high-speed trains and also TER regional express trains. But Eurostar trains connecting Paris to London have been mostly spared by the strike. You can see the status of departures and arrivals in main stations in France at this website.
Many high schools have closed around the country and students could be seen protesting and demonstrating, including ones near the high school on my street. Some say they are worried about reform; my personal opinion is that they want to miss class, as is usually the case. If they truly understood the implications of the reform, they would be supporting it as it’s in their interest to have a pension when they’re retired. Indeed, as The Economist stated, “A silent majority seems to know that demography and economics make pension reform inevitable.”
How does the situation look now? Transport has been improving, as the Paris RATP system will tell you (though RER B is still experiencing delays and some bus and metro lines are still crowded). Lyon’s TCL system is affected too, as are other cities. But workers from oil giant Total and others have been blocking oil refineries, leading to concerns about gasoline shortages and the French government to seek emergency supplies. But in a poll by conservative daily Le Figaro, about 65% of respondents said they were not worried by having gas shortages.
The government led by President Nicolas Sarkozy (trying to regain power and influence at home and abroad, according to The Economist) is pledging not to back down on the major parts of the reform, such as raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018 and the age for a full pension from 65 to 67. But these are the main hot points of the unions on strike. As BBC states, it’s a battle of wills. As life expectancy increases and public debt rises, reform of the French system is inevitable.
Be attentive to travel websites to make sure public transport is not disrupted and be patient. The Senate is highly expected to approve of the retirement reform by the end of the month. The best thing unions can hope for is the Socialists to win the 2012 presidency, but even then the Socialists would have a tough time coming back on this sorely needed reform. Don’t believe campaign promises or politicians. Believe economics.
Very active within the American community of France, Michael Barrett is a communications consultant, freelance translator and English teacher. He writes a must-read blog for expats called American Expat In France. Michael can be reached by email here.
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