Friday, November 16, 2007

It's cold; days are short; let's go on strike

Back in the old days, at least back to '68 and my first years here in France, strikes came with warm weather. It seems to make sense: days are long, so the disruption can go on longer; it's usually nice walking or marching weather, depending on what side of the strike you are.

Then some years ago, they started striking in cold, freezing weather. Of course the government started introducing major reforms that university students would protest in November or December - perhaps thinking that the students wouldn't march in the cold. But you'd think they'd have figured out, by now, that students don't care about the weather. (The fact that they have to wear their coats in class because of the poor heating means it doesn't make much difference to them.)

Transport workers can strike in all seasons, but they've decided that the best season is when commuters have to get up in the freezing cold and walk, hitch-hike, bike, or find some other way of getting to work. And they decided that one-day strikes weren't inconvenient enough. Now, they announce a one-day strike and then extend it day-by-day, so you don't know how you're going to organize your trip the next day.

A lot of us remember the strike in November-December '95. For some, it was the downfall of the Juppé government; for me it was the end of the Model F van. I was teaching at Langues et Affairs in Levallois at the time; I'd leave home at about 6:00 with the hope I'd arrive at work by 9:00. After work, at 12, I'd drop off anyone else who left at the same time. I remember one guy, who didn't live far from Nogent, who came by bike and we'd load up his bike into the van. One day, I had two passengers with bikes. That was a day it snowed. Towards the end of the strike, some of the students were no longer coming to class and by the last day there was only one. Since we knew that there would only be the two of us, we arranged to meet at a café midway between our homes. By then, I no longer had a car. The Model F sputtered and died at a traffic light one morning - couldn't take the overheating in traffic jams any more.

Since then, the '95 strike is the one against all others are measured and late fall strikes have become the standard. It doesn't matter what the issue of the day is. It does matter who is in power; when Sarkozy won the election, it was a given that his government would have to face these strikes. It doesn't matter that hardly anyone in France belongs to a union; the unions are really political entities with political agendas.

There was a warm-up strike a month ago - it lasted two days. This time they started on Wednesday (that really means Tuesday at 8:00 p.m.) and it looks like it'll continue on to next week. (Anne made contingency plans and has spent the week at Claire's.) It's been very cold, but sunny. I'm not working, so it's not a daily headache for me. Yesterday, I had to go in to Paris - the metro line from Vincennes was operating, so I walked to Vincennes (45 minutes) and got the metro. Coming back, I even got on a bus before it got too crowded and didn't have to walk back to Nogent. People are very nice during strikes: drivers pick up hitch-hikers; commuters squished in metros and busses are polite and even start conversations; you're excused if you're late.... Boy! Am I glad I don't have to drive to Plessis-Robinson now!

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