‘They are in a difficult situation’: Paris commuters show sympathy to striking workers

As Parisians made their way to work by bike, on foot on cramming on to the few available buses or Metros, many remained supportive of the strikers.

'They are in a difficult situation': Paris commuters show sympathy to striking workers
Photo: AFP

The first day of unlimited strike action in France brought widespread chaos to transport across France, with thousands of trains, buses, trams and Metro lines cancelled as workers walked out.

READ ALSO LIVE France comes to a halt as massive nationwide strikes begin

But in contrast to the tourists expressing their frustration, many Parisians on their morning commute remained supportive of the aims of the strikers.

The nationwide strike has been declared in opposition to government plans to reform the French pension system – an issue that affects everyone of working age in France.

And despite being frustrated by the transport difficulties, many people in Paris said they supported the aims of the strikers and respected what they are trying to do.

Librarian Aline Ferrault was making her way to work by bike when she spoke to The Local.

She said: “I support the strike. I understand that they are on strike because they are in a difficult situation and their work is difficult.”

She added although she supported the idea of pension reform, she did not think the proposed reforms were the right ones.


Engineer François Guillemet said: “I support the strikers in their aims but I think we need more discussion, that is always the best way to find compromise.”

Sales manager Arnaud, 30, works in the private sector but said he was striking in sympathy for the public sector workers.

He said: “If people really knew how this reform would impact them, they would all be out in the street.”

A group of French teenagers making their way through Les Halles station said: “We're not too worried, it's a long time until we retire, but our parents complain.”

One added that her mother – a nurse – was taking the limited industrial action that is permitted to emergency services.


National polls have consistently shown support for the unions in their battle, and if they can retain public sympathy union leaders will feel more able to continue their actions for days or weeks.

Among the people trying to travel from Les Halles station was Alain Levabasseur, a retired Metro employee and long-time member of the CGT union who was among those who took to the streets in the major strike action of 1995.

He told The Local: “In 1995 there were no automated Metro lines [Metro lines 1 and 14 are automated so run as normal on strike day] so the disruption in Paris was much worse.

“But the other main difference between now and 1995 is that people are different, young people especially have less solidarity.

“I hope there will be enough solidarity to keep this action going, because there is a lot of misinformation from the government who are trying to present the demonstrators as violent.

“I hope so because this is an unjust reform – it tries to put SNCF employees on the same level as Amazon workers.

“No social progress has ever been given for free and we must respect the progress that has been made before and not throw it away.”

French workers enjoy strong rights on issues like unfair dismissal, working hours, holidays, sick pay and pensions and most French workers are aware of the connection between a strong union movement and the rights they enjoy in their working lives.

The pension reform that French president Emmanuel Macron wants to introduce involves doing away with the 42 different pension regimes currently in operation in France and replacing them with one universal system for both public and private sector employees.

The government argues that the current system is a mess and a universal one would be transparent and also more fair to all.

But public sector employees are more likely to lose out as many of them enjoy 'special regimes' negotiated over the years between governments and unions that give them higher pensions and the right to retire early.

Unions says these rights make up for the fact that public sector employees often get lower pay and are more likely to work anti-social hours or in polluted or risky conditions, and early retirement is a recognition of this fact.

But not everybody was so understanding. One American man who has lived in France for 20 years said: “There are always demonstrations and strikes.

“This one is ridiculous, because it’s all about railroad workers not wanting to retire at the same time as everyone else.

“They got these privileges at a time when they were shovelling coal, but now 85 percent of the people working at the SNCF sit in front of the computers.

“It's part of the French culture, they hate seeing their social security going. I’m hoping it lasts only today but I worry they might keep it going for longer.”


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French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.