‘What a mess. Half of the population who’ve got jobs are on strike. The other half can’t get to work because there’s no petrol, or the trains are on strike. And meanwhile, the numbers on the dole are growing. And it’s half term, and nobody can take their kids out because there’s no fuel. Welcome to France.’ That was the baker’s wife on Friday morning.
France, like most of Europe, is in the throes of passing legislation to raise the retirement age to cope with the pensions crisis. And the French don’t like it. More than that, they really don’t like Sarkozy. What better time to express their dissatisfaction by going on strike! Since September, there have been General Strikes at least once a week, with marches, demonstrations and protests. For more than two weeks, the petrol refineries have been blockaded, and fuel is running out. Apparently some 70% of the population, even right-voting electors, support the protests. Not round here though.
This part of the world is traditionally left-leaning, and I’ve met nobody who’s prepared to admit to having helped vote Sarkozy into power. But they’re not happy with the present state of affairs. The baker’s wife is not alone. There’s discontent at the number of days the children have missed at school, and at the intimidation by some of the striking students. Rubbish isn’t being collected. Prices are rising.
Some of the protests have their funny side. In the Dordogne, electricians have cut the electricity supply at town halls where the mayor supports President Sarkozy’s party, the UMP. Others seem to be turning a bit nasty. In a school in the Centre region, students and teachers who support the strike have smeared every available exterior surface with mayonnaise and ketchup to make it difficult and unpleasant for teachers and students who want to enter the building to do so.
Today on the radio, a hortculturalist explained her difficulties. For weeks she’s been growing the chrysanthemum plants which are sold in vast numbers, this week only, in time for the traditional All Saints’ holiday, the day when people visit the graves of their relatives to lay flowers. Petrol shortages mean the plants can’t be distributed, and unless things change very quickly, she’ll be left in debt, with a mountain of unsaleable plants. Anyone who depends on logistics in any way, such as farmers and shopkeepers, is in a mess.
And as M. Fonquernie pointed out this morning, the senate voted to pass the legislation on Friday. They won’t change their minds. But laws like this take a while to enact. Come the next election, two years away, the French get their chance to rid themselves of Sarkozy et al, and the newly elected government can repeal the legislation and pass its own. If it chooses.
Meanwhile, I’m far from happy. On Thursday, my son, his wife and her parents are due to fly out from England to stay with us. Guess what? Another general strike. So….no air traffic control, no flights, no anything much.