The French Revolt: Train Edition

Mia Ouyang and Ricky Rojas

   On Dec. 5, 2019, an extensive protest was held in Paris as hundreds of thousands of government workers marched through the city, in an effort to demonstrate against recent propositions to reform the nation’s pension plans. 

   French President Emmanuel Macron plans to create a new unified pension system to simplify the extremely complex current one. This existing system allows workers in some government positions, like transportation and gas/power, to enjoy better benefits than the population at large. So, to retain these benefits, workers launched widespread strikes.

  For months, protesters would march from Gare De Lyon station to Gare de l’Est every Saturday, majorly disrupting traffic and metro lines. Though it changes from week to week, almost all of Paris’s metro lines are closed during this time, except for the fully automated lines (lines 1 and 14). In addition, trains connecting the suburbs to Paris close earlier, creating a nightmarish condition for both travelers and commuters alike.

   Local taxi driver Adil Elmaleh says that the train situation is so bad that his “sister takes a [bicycle] to and from her job. It’s a 45 minutes trip, but the trains are so horrible. She refuses to take them.”

   History teacher, Mrs. Rojas said, “We visited [Paris] Jan. 1 through the 9, 2020. There were a couple places where we wanted to take the metro, but we were unable to, and … we had to use different forms of transportation, like taxis, and private drivers and things that we weren’t really anticipating to do. So it was a little more costly.”

   Recently, the situation improved as the UNSA, France’s largest transportation company, announced they would be ending the indefinite strikes on Jan. 18. It’s not over though, as they still regularly plan days of industrial action which heavily impact traffic.

   The protests weren’t always peaceful, either. There have been times where black-hooded protesters set fires, tipped over cars and destroyed buildings as a part of the strikes. Stores close along the protest routes as police struggle to control the crowds.

   The government response to these protests has been overwhelming. Police clad in riot gear doused protesters in pepper spray in an effort to control them. Roads are barricaded and buildings are shut down. There have even been conflicts between firefighters and police.

   Fortunately, the economic impacts of the strikes have been limited. Despite some businesses reporting a 50% decline in customers, the Banque de France reports that the French economy is still projected to grow 1.3 percent. The strikes are estimated to have only impact the economy by 0.1 percent.
  As the situation progresses, France can be looked to as a country that refuses to lay down and be a doormat to changes they dislike. As high as tensions may get, they will stand up – at whatever cost.