What’s going on in France? Why have so many people been taking to the streets since April?
Striking is a national pastime and longstanding tradition in France. It is hard to compete with the French in that category! French people, especially those living in Paris, are accustomed to strikes and would rather complain than worry about them.
Among other age-old traditions in France, such as baguettes, wine, and cheese, strikes are ranked in the top 5 must-do experiences. The right to demonstrate was decriminalized at the end of the 19th century and is protected by the French Constitution. Following the Revolution in 1789, major uprisings have included a massive resistance movement during the Second World War and tremendous students’ strikes in May 1968. The French people view protesting as an inalienable right and are not shy about voicing that opinion.
What are the impacts on the everyday life?
The Société National des Chemins de Fer (SNCF) employees are the champions of striking. Many people rely on SNCF routes to travel for work or vacation since it has a monopoly on train travel in France. When the SNCF is on strike, fewer trains are running and those that do run tend to be late. When unions call for strikes, employees take to the streets and set up banners and occasionally blockades. While it can become more difficult to get around, big French cities have great transportation systems and offer alternatives modes of transit. It is also rare that an entire company or public services employees stop working. In hospitals for instance, less than half of the doctors or nurses would strike to ensure patient safety and care is unaffected.
In general, strikes are scheduled a week in advance and largely relayed in the media. Being in France while people are demonstrating is then only a matter of organization and patience!
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