Paris commuters split over strikes: ‘They need to give us more information’

On the second day of major strikes against pension reforms in France, some Parisians who were struggling to get to work were already losing their patience with the strikers.

Paris commuters split over strikes: 'They need to give us more information'
Parisians wanting to get to work on Friday had to find alternative means of transport as most Metro stations remained closed. Photo: AFP

At 8am on Friday, Place d'Italie was covered in a cold layer of mist and car exhaust. Parisians with their faces wrapped in scarves huddled quickly towards the Metro station, hoping to get to work quickly. But a large metal grid was blocking the station. The station was closed. None of the lines could be accessed. 

“Putain” swore Ahmed, 30, as he spotted the grid. This was the second closed Metro station he tried to access this morning. He was not feeling in a forgiving mood towards the strikers.

“They need to give us more information,” he said.

Like many other Parisians, Ahmed had expected the first day of the strike to be highly disruptive and had worked from home on Thursday. He had not, however, predicted that Friday would be just as bad.

“I knew there would be a strike today, but I thought there would be at least some Metros running,” he said.

Metro stations kept shut on Friday morning following unions' decision to prolong the strikes. Photo: AFP

Ahmed is an engineer working in the private sector. He said he generally supported social movements, but thought they needed to be better organised.

“How long will the strike last? We don’t know. What will happen? We don’t know that either,” he said.

Unions leading the protest claim Macron's proposal for a single pension system, which would eliminate dozens of separate plans for public sector workers, would force millions of people in both the public and private sectors to work well for longer and possibly beyond the official retirement age of 62 and face a drop in the value of their pensions.

The government will unveil details of the plan next week but has already said people will have to work longer to maintain a system that could have a deficit of up to 17 billion euros ($19 billion) by 2025.

READ ALSO: Nationwide strikes in France: 'Expect major disruption that could last until New Year'

'It's indecent'

Another disgruntled Metro commuter echoed Ahmed’s annoyance. As she prepared to walk for 40 minutes to get to work, a woman who would not be identified said she thought the transport sector strikers in the SNCF and RATP were behaving unfairly.

“They have so many advantages. I think it’s indecent,” she said.

Although she herself works in a part of the public sector that would be negatively affected by the proposed pension reform, she said she thought the reform to be “good”.

“We will have to transform our pension system sooner or later.”

Unions who work on the Paris RATP network announced on Thursday afternoon that their strike will last until at least Monday and it is highly likely that other unions will follow suit.
But some commuters said they stood with the strikers, even if they themselves had to pay the price.
“I’m glad that they keep the strike going, even if I’m not too happy about my own situation right now,” said Mohammed, 31, who works as a teacher in the southeastern banlieue Villejuif. 

On Thursday Mohammad marched together with the strikers in Paris to protest the government’s pension reform. Today he said he has to get to work. But how? 

“If Tolbiac (the next Metro station) is closed I guess I’ll have to call my school and tell them I’m in for an hour of walking,” he said.

“I want to retire before I get arthiritis.” Scores of people took to the streets all over France on Thursday to protest the government's proposed pension reform. Photo: AFP

Beatrice Haranger who had to get across Paris to work tried in vain to get on a Line 7 Metro at Louis Blanc.
On Thursday the first day of the strike, the trains on Line 7 Metro were fairly empty but it was a different story on Friday.
“They were totally packed when they pulled in and it was impossible to get on. They were only every ten minutes so by the time the next one pulled in the platform was packed so hardly anyone got on.”
She gave up and walked to Bastille, 30 minutes away to get on line 1 which is running as normal because the trains are driverless.

Uber price doubled

Further down the street, Faisa, 42, tried to juggle Axel and Celian, twins of 7, while simultaneously checking the bus schedule on her phone and on the bus stop.

A single mother, she had to get the boys to school before herself going to work in an investment bank. 

“Yesterday we took an Uber for €12. But this morning the price had gone up to €23,” she said.`

It was past 8.30am now and the bus sign said the next bus would come in 13 minutes. Then they had to take the tram. 

But Faisa was in good spirits. While holding Celian in his collar to prevent him from tumbling into the street, she said that she thought the government needed to listen to the protesters.


“If people are this angry, there must be something wrong,” she said, adding that she would be fine with continuing the strenuous commute on Monday if she had to.

“You can’t just force people to accept things. We need dialogue.”

READ ALSO: 'We don't have a choice': French unions explain why they've brought France to a halt

Faisa said she had been caught in the crossfire between ‘yellow vest’ protesters and police the day of the one-year anniversary of the movement.

“It was like a guerrilla fight, it was really sad,” she said.

“People are miserable, and government doesn’t seem to understand it.”


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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.