Strikes in France: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Stephanie Mertz
February 5, 2020

Une autre grève…C’est la vie en France, oui? And today it’s true as France has entered the longest nationwide strike in decades. La grève is a strike—and since I have arrived in France, there has been weekly strikes that affect everything from Paris to Nice (where I am studying). Buses, trams, metros, trains and airports: these are some of the places that are impacted by the strikes. The strikes are an attempt by public sector workers to show their dissatisfaction with the government’s plan to change the French pension system. France has one of the most expensive pension systems in the world with currently 42 different pension plans that vary according to profession and region. The proposed changes aim to make pensioners contribute the same amount and give all pensioners equal rights. There’s the good, bad, and ugly in every situation and in France with les grèves, it is no different.

The Good

The best part of the strikes is seeing free speech, democracy, and political protests in action. While in France I have seen many old buildings and have heard lectures after lectures about France’s rich history of protests and the people holding their government responsible for their actions but seeing it in person is different. During the first week of classes, I witnessed the biggest march of protestors passing the Nice IES Abroad Center in history. Talking to local French students about their opinions on the protests and the politics behind them was a unique and interesting experience.

The Bad

The bad part of the strikes is of course the difficulty of dealing with a public transport system that shuts down every few days. Going to Paris, my train was delayed by 8 hours because of the strikes and the Louvre was closed due to strikes as well. Also, many metro stations were closed. It was considered a good weekend to visit Paris, so I can’t imagine what full strikes look like in the capital city. Between troublesome transportation, and construction closing Notre Dame and half of the Eiffel Tower, Paris was not as magical as expected. In Nice, the weekly strikes have affected my buses to class in the morning and transportation to the airport. But at least I am getting my exercise. 

The Ugly

The French economy is losing millions of dollars from tourism and everyday people strike, they lose out on their paychecks as well. There is no end in sight despite frequent talks between the government and labor unions. Their differences stem from the fact that the government, led by President Emmanuel Macron, sees these reforms as necessary to help balance the French economy, while the labor unions, representing most public sector workers, accuse Macron for “living in his own bubble”. A majority of the French people support the protests but over time participation in the strikes have declined. Hopefully an agreement between the french unions and government will be reached before irreperable harm is done to the French economy. 

The French people have a long history of protesting their government when they feel they have been wronged, and this time the government is not budging, so I expect these strikes to last for some time. It is an interesting time to be in France but not so great to travel due to transportation strikes and delays. Overall for me it is a great experience to be in France and well worth the delays to be so close to a major historical event.

Stephanie Mertz

<p>I am a midwest girl who is out to explore the world. I have visited 6 continents already and am excited to go to new places during my time abroad! I love to go to new places, try new foods, and immerse myself in different cultures.</p>

2020 Spring
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Worthington, OH
International Affairs
Political Science
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