Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Our Last Day in Paris?

The strike is still on (day 8), so we're not sure whether we'll make it to Switzerland or not. Today, government workers had their strike, which they had planned a few weeks ago, and that only added to the chaos. If we can't make it to Switzerland, we'll stay in Paris until it's time to return to Memphis

For more info on the strike, see: http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/11/20/europe/strike.php

France resolute on change as mass walkout cripples country
The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

PARIS: Civil servants, from teachers to postal workers, began a mass walkout across France on Tuesday, the seventh day of a transport strike that has caused havoc on French rails. But the government said it would not abandon its planned changes.

Up to half of the country's teachers could stay off the job in support of higher salaries and job security, officials have said. Postal and tax services were also affected. Flight disruptions were expected, as air traffic controllers are also civil servants.

National newspapers were absent from the streets Tuesday as printers and delivery personnel joined the strike.

Though not state workers, they used the opportunity to protest job cuts.

With a paralyzing transit strike stretching toward its eighth day, Ludovic Boltz, a commuter, stood in the gloom on a suburban train platform Monday, fuming about his daily journey and shaking a bag of baguettes in fury.

"My opinion of this strike is that it's annoying lots of people and lots of workers," he said, voice rising above a bellowing announcement of another train delay. "It amounts to terrorism, and we're the hostages."

But there was no relief in sight to ease the commuter misery from the national transport strike that the government says is costing the nation from €300 million to €400 million, or $444 million to $591 million, a day. On Monday, rail workers voted to press on with the strike, most likely at least through Wednesday, when union officials will sit down with government officials and transportation executives for talks.

November is shaping up as the high season in France for strikes, with students challenging a new higher education law, tobacco shop owners organizing to demonstrate against a new anti-smoking law and French judges and lawyers poised for a Nov. 29 strike to protest structural changes that could result in the elimination of 200 courts.

Along the train platforms, weary resignation with limited services is starting to turn into resentment as the crippling strike continues. On Sunday, several groups organized a counterdemonstration in eastern Paris to demand an end to the conflict.

The governing party, the UMP, has been passing out fliers at train stations denouncing rail workers as a "minority defending a system of retirement at two speeds."

"People are really fed up," said Sabine Herold, a spokeswoman for a group called Liberal Alternative, which helped organize the stop-the-strike rally in Paris. "It's very complicated with the subway, buses and trains blocked. It's very difficult to have a normal life. People are really fed up because they think the strikers are egotistical."

The rail unions are fighting to keep special privileges for about 500,000 workers that grant locomotive drivers, for example, the option of retiring at 50 or 55 with full pension benefits. The government wants the workers to pay into the retirement system for at least 40 years, changes that have already taken place for workers in private industry and the civil service.

On Sunday, the stop-the-strike demonstration drew about 8,000 people, according to the police, or 20,000, according to organizers, who noted that people had braved bitter cold to participate, along with a general lack of transportation.

It was hardly the turnout of May 1968 when a huge showing of the "silent majority" converged on the Champs-Élysées to demonstrate support for President Charles de Gaulle, who was confronting student unrest.

But Herold said the group had united with others to organize another rally for next Sunday if the strikes continue. Others in her group, like Jean-Paul Oury, said they considered the counterdemonstration over the weekend just the first round.

Polls show that the counterdemonstrators are tapping into popular sentiment, with a majority of the French people siding with President Nicolas Sarkozy on changes in the pension system.

A weekend poll by Ipsos, commissioned by the government, found that support for changing the pension system had grown 10 percentage points to 64 percent in one week, while support for the strikers had dropped from 35 percent to 33 percent.

In the meantime, French commuters are turning to classic coping techniques: bicycling, roller-skating, carpooling and telecommuting.

Some small businesses are changing work hours so that employees come in earlier to leave before the gridlock begins.

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