France and les Greves

An edition concerning strikes, French law, being in a demonstration and trying to get to Rouen.

I am no stranger2016-05-26 15.04.38 to les greves – strikes.  When in Tours several years ago for an immersion program, I had to get a ride to school from my mere de la famille and I had to leave the school by a certain time to catch a bus because the bus drivers decided to hold a strike but only during the rush hour.  How INconvenient.

And, of course, last year I was here in the midst of the demonstrations against Uber.  Fortunately, I wasn’t flying at the time (getting taxi, shuttle or Uber to the airport was a mess!) and my travels about Paris kept me away from the places of burning tires.

This year les greves are hitting too close to home.  SNCF – the train company – will have reduced schedules because of striking workers.  And tomorrow I am off to Rouen – by train.  I read that there will be trains – 3 out of 5 of the intercities trains will run.  I am just back from a consultation (French and English) with the nice lady at La Boutique de SNCF.  She said I should be able to look up online if my train is impacted.  Leaving tomorrow shouldn’t be a problem as we have an early train.  Wednesday is different.  But she assured me there are other trains I can get on because – they have a duty to uphold.  OK.  Sure…

So we are off tomorrow as planned.

Why so many greves and manifestations?  SNCF is on its own with issues about its contracts and wages and working hours.  But many others are striking because of La Loi du Travail.  Also called Loi El Khomri.  (That’s the law of work also called the law of El Khomri, she’s the minister of Work in Hollande’s government.  Here they seem to name the laws after the minister who proposes them.)

The law seems to make sense.  But hey, I am an American and used to be in HR.  There is a very high unemployment rate here.  And the companies are hesitant to hire workers on more than a short term agreement because it’s very difficult and expensive to fire or lay off the long term contract employees.  So this law was supposed to change that.  With the intent that companies would then start hiring more people and the economy would start moving again.

It also made some changes to the work week, currently 35 hours.  But from my friends’ comments, I don’t know any French person who works less than 40 hours and sometimes 50 hours a week.  And the new law still had overtime in it.

And now after many changes, I read that the businesses feel it is too watered down.  So maybe a tempest in a teapot?  But the big union of CGT – Confédération générale du travail (I am told it is a Communist organization) – is opposed to this law.  And they are making a big stink and holding the demonstrations, manifestations, and blockages.  The police held their own demonstration because they feel unjustly caught in the middle.  Some of the demonstrators have turned violent – they wear hoods, throw Molotov cocktails, burn police cars.  I saw a clip on TV – hooded jerks were pushing on the gates of – I think – the muse de Armee.  One poor museum guard was trying to lock the gate – the jerks were starting to push it open.  Suddenly three army dudes appeared with their machine guns.  The jerks backed off right away.  HA!

Anyway back to the process of the law.  France is an interesting democracy.  Maybe there’s a better word, but I don’t know it.  There are two housesSénat and the Assemblée nationale.  I think that is about as far as the comparison goes to the US.  Yes, the members of the Assembly are voted in.  Deputies in the Assembly are voted for by the local people, however, Senators are chosen by “grands électeurs“, notably by mayors and other locally elected representatives.

Best website if you want to know more: and I am quoting them:

New bills (projets de loi), proposed by government, and new private members bills (propositions de loi) must be approved by both chambers, before becoming law.  However, by virtue of Article 49.3 of the French constitution, a government can override parliamentary opposition and pass a law without a parliamentary vote. This does not happen frequently, …

However, in 2015, Prime Minister Valls had to resort to using 49.3 in order to push the controversial economic reforms of the “Loi Macron” through parliament, in the face of a revolt by hard left members of his own Socialist party.

Do you remember le loi du Macron ? He’s another minister – of the economy.  He pushed through a law to allow stores to open on Sundays.  Fought against by many.  But when the employees of BHV – a big department store downtown – voted to decide for that store, it was a very close vote.  A no vote, but closer than the opposition to the law would have led you to believe.  Only stores in tourist zones are open now – down the Champs Elysees and in the big train stations.

And Hollande’s government has done the same for le loi du travail.  How can you be a democracy if the government can do what it wants?  Oh, wait!  The Assembly can have a no confidence vote and can overrule the government that way.  Yes, they did hold one.  No, it didn’t pass.  30 votes short I believe.

And now we have greves.  In the Paris area, so far it’s been the RER trains – they are the trains that connect Paris to outlying suburbs.  It’s supposed to get worse.  Fewer trains, longer waits.  The Transilien will be affected too.  That’s the line that also go to the suburbs.  RER is more like a train, the Transilien is more like a tram.  AND supposedly the metro and buses will also be included.  Now that will hurt.   And somethings going on at the airport too.

And CGT organized a greve at the refineries.  I am not quite sure if the refinery workers went on strike or if CGT just blocked the entrances so no gasoline could be delivered.  The result was that last week many gas stations ran out of fuel!  My friend with the car waited for two hours to find out the station had to close.  She did get gas the next day.  But it makes me hesitate to rent a car to get to Rouen…

The US State Department sends me emails to warn me about greves and manifestations in France.  (Not from Hillary or John Kerry…).  I do have several French news apps so I stay pretty up to date, and I like the State Department looking out for me.  Avoiding those hot spots is fine with me.

Then again sometimes nobody tells me nuttin’.  I went to the museum near the Bastille for 2016-05-26 12.05.23the second half of the CERAMIX exhibition (first half at the Sevres museum – where they continue to make Sevres ceramiques).  2016-05-26 12.55.41Grabbed lunch.  Oh no.  You never “grab lunch” in France.  We sat down for a full lunch and while eating spied demonstrators marching by the restaurant.  Didn’t seem to be too many so I wasn’t concerned.  And after lunch my friend went to the left for her metro stop and I to the right for mine.

Mine was the Bastille.  And at the same time I was heading for the metro, 2016-05-26 15.07.09-1CGT and other unions had claimed the Place de la Bastille for a massive demonstration and march.   The place itself was quite festive, with food stands all over.  Fun day in the sun.  Except for the strange guy waving a burning flare and someone else who would occasionally make a big banging sound that made you flinch and look for guns.  All for fun.  At least no burning tires.  They were lining up for a walk to Place de la Nation.  I read later there were 17,000 to 18,000 people.  Didn’t look that many to me.  But I must admit I headed straight for the metro and home.

Keeps your fingers crossed for my return train to Paris.  Merci.