Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The French, Going on Strike, and Me

Museum-goers in Paris recently had to go without many of the city's most popular art-filled destinations. A museum workers strike that started last week (and has since gotten a little less widespread) temporarily shut such popular destinations at the Musée d’Orsay, Musée Rodin, and even the Musée du Louvre. I wasn’t surprised to hear the news – we all know the French are famous for their use of grèves – but I was surprised when I realized that for all the time I’ve spent in France, I haven’t had much first-hand experience with major French strikes. Not that I’m complaining.

In addition to those that are capable of closing parts of Versailles, the most dramatic strikes in France have to be the ones that involve public transportation. Métro strikes all but bring the city to its knees, with sights like this instilling the fear of God into travelers like me. Air France strikes are also known for their elevated pain-in-the-neck factor, and while I have had experience with being barred from an Air France flight, it was not as the result of a strike. Then there was the garbage collectors strike in Cannes that I missed by mere hours because of a weekend trip to Strasbourg, and which involved the workers throwing garbage all over the city streets (quelle classe), and while I did encounter a museum strike last year in Paris, it was on a much smaller scale as the current. Just the Musée d’Orsay and one utterly annoyed American student.

I have a difficult time understanding the strike mentality in France. I recognize the importance of strikes in French society and the right of workers to assert their wants and needs, but in the end, I simply don’t get it. Maybe it’s because I have no information on whether or not all this societal disruption actually brings tangible results, or because I’ve never myself gone on strike and therefore am unable to empathize with the strikers. Or maybe, it's because I'm not meant to understand it. It's quite possible that the frequency and regularity with which the the French are en grève is simply meant to remain one of those eternal French mysteries, like how they don't get fat, and why on Earth they refuse to clean up after their dogs.


Zhu said...

Transportation strikes are definitely the worse in terms on impact on people, especially around Paris. But the strike French fear the most is the truck driver's strike... in the 1990s, they blocked supermarkets and gas supply a few times and France was totally paralyzed.

I used to think that strikes were a French thing. But I recently learn that French don't actually strike the most (cf stats I read somewhere).

Canadians do strike too, which I found surprising. And boy, once they are on strike, they are super stubborn... Two months bus strike in the middle of the winter in Ottawa last year (many people lost their job because they just couldn't get to work, and as you know, walking in NOT an option), a two months garbage strike in TO this summer, a MTO strike that has been going on since Aug. in Ontario so nobody can renew or take driver license...

It's more common than you'd think!

Tanya said...

Zhu, I'm also surprised that the Canadians stirke so much. I've never heard about these seemingly lengthy and disruptive strikes you describe. Thank you for sharing!