Strikes leave French shopkeepers fearing another Christmas slump

Strikes leave French shopkeepers fearing another Christmas slump
Will the upcoming strikes empty the Parisian shopping streets? Photo: AFP
Last year they suffered during the ‘yellow vest’ protests, this year they are bracing for unlimited strikes - France's shopkeepers fear there is another tough festive season ahead.

France is preparing for Thursday December 5th when multiple unions go on what is predicted to be highly disruptive strikes, potentially paralysing the country for weeks. 

With unions saying they are ready to keep the strike going for an 'unlimited' period of time if the government doesn't backpedal on its proposed pension reform, French shopkeepers fear they will be stuck in the crossfire – again.

Last year, shopkeepers in cities like Paris, Toulouse, Lille and Bordeaux saw their incomes fall sharply during the weekly, occasionally violent, ‘yellow vest’ protests. 

This year a union representing independent shopkeepers has called for December to “remain a moment of reconciliation.” 

“We’re fearing for our lives,” the union stated in a tribune published in Le Parisien this week, begging shoppers to defy potential transport jams and visit their shops in the festive season, which is a “crucial” month for shopkeepers. 

READ ALSO 'Unlimited' December strikes in France: What you need to know

“The state can't do everything”

The unease is shared by local shopkeepers in Paris, some of whom are preparing for the worst.

“Obviously we’ll lose money,” said Azar Hagege, the owner of a small shoe shop called Djena, situated in what is usually a lively shopping street in the 2nd arrondissement, a little south of Strasbourg Saint Denis. 

Saturday is the big day for shopkeepers like Hagege, who said he worries the transport networks remain paralysed over the weekend.

“We won't have any customers in that case,” he said. 

READ ALSO: Six ways to get around Paris without Metro

Hagege, who also distributes shoes to shops in other cities, said last year's ‘yellow vest’ protests “strongly” reduced both his own and his clients’ revenues.

Still, Hagege said understands some of the strikers demands.

“But not all of them. The state can’t do everything,” he said.

“Macron I hate you with all my heart.” A 'yellow vest' protester with a clear message to the French President. PHOTO: AFP

“It’s too early to say.”

Among the groups striking are railway workers, Metro and bus drivers, hauliers, airline ground crew, air traffic controllers and postal workers. Also joining the strike are the country’s two largest teacher’s unions, with one of them telling The Local that they fear the proposed reform would push teachers into poverty.

READ ALSO: “French unions justify action to paralyse country”

Olivia Phelil used to be a teacher in département 93 (Seine-Saint-Denis), popularly dubbed “le neuf-trois” (the nine-three), known for containing some of France's most deprived banlieues with high levels of crime and social issues. 

“I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said.

She quit her job, and now she sells handmade jewelry from her own store, JICQY, which she opened a couple of year ago in the heart of the hip 10th arrondissement in Paris.

So far it’s going well. Phelil has two interns working for her. Both of them live in the suburbs, so Phelil said she might let one of them sleep at her house on Wednesday to make it easier for her to get to work the next day.

Phelil is aware of the teachers' grievances. During her years as a teacher she herself went on strike several times with her colleagues. JICQY is only two years old, so she cannot say with certainty whether the store lost money or not due to the ‘yellow vest’ protests last year. But, for the time being, she isn’t too worried about the impact of the upcoming strike will have on her finances. 

“It’s too early to say. Let’s first see how long they keep it going for,” she said.

December is the most important month for shopkeepers, who fear for the consequences of a prolonged strike. PHOTO: AFP

“A disaster”

Further south, closer to the Metro station Étienne Marcel, shop owner Philippe Stainer hit a tougher note when asked about the upcoming strike.

“I don’t think [the strikers] have anything to complain about,” he said.

Referring to the groups of strikers that are currently subject to so-called ‘special regimes’, which the pension reform aims to do away with, Stainer said that they are better off than independent business owners “who pay taxes until there’s nothing left.”

“They receive so much help.”

READ ALSO: Do strikers in France get paid?

In an echo of Hagege, Stainer said he has “no doubt” the upcoming strike will affect the number of people visiting his clothing store Purple, and that he already saw his income slashed last year during the 'yellow vest' protests.

“It was a disaster,” he said.

“I understand some of what [the strikers] want, but I don’t support putting the country to a halt like that.”

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