Julia SMU-in-Paris

Julia is a junior from Plano majoring in history, with a French minor, and is a member of the University Honors Program. She is studying abroad with SMU-in-Paris in fall 2007.

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Strike!

On Wednesday, October 17, at 6 PM, French transportation employees went on strike, which so far has lasted all of Thursday and into Friday. In France, workers have a legal right to strike for more employee rights, therefore, strikes are quite a frequent thing in Paris. While I was convinced the entire city of Paris would be paralyzed by a strike of metro, bus, and train workers, it seemed to be a day like any other, except with more people on bikes.

Walking to school
Because I live in the 7th arrondissement, very close to the Eiffel Tower, I normally do not take the metro to school, but I instead take the bus. Anne-Marie, like everyone else, was very unsure whether or not the buses would be running. It is up to the discretion of each individual bus driver whether or not they will strike, therefore there is a small chance some of the buses will run.

Unfortunately, my bus was not running on Thursday morning, so I had to leave my house at 7 AM to walk the nearly 3 miles to school before my 10 AM class. Luckily, it was quite cool, so it was actually refreshing to be out in the crisp autumn air.

As I was about one-third of the way to school, I spotted a bus and immediately jumped on it without even looking at where it was going. I realized as soon as I was on the bus how stupid that was, considering I could have been going the complete opposite direction from where I needed to go. Thank goodness it was going the same direction as I was and would actually drop me off relatively close to school.

From that stop I only had a 20-minute walk, and I was there in plenty of time for my 10 AM class. Almost everyone in my class made it despite the annoyance of the strike.

Not like home
In the United States, because we often don’t have strikes that directly affect our lives like a transportation strike, it was a bit bizarre, but also another lesson in cultural differences. There were people who were supporting the strike, wearing pins supporting the transportation workers, but there were also people who were yelling at the metro workers on strike, saying they should get back to work. At the heart of the whole strike is Sarkozy’s (the new French president) plan to reduce the retirement benefits of metro, train, and bus drivers and require a minimum of 40 years of work for full pensions.

If you consider that, in the U.S., most people work until they are about 65 or 67, working 40 years really isn’t that much – in fact, it’s pretty standard for Americans. However, France transportation workers have only had to work 30-35 years for full pensions because of the “extreme stresses” caused by the job.

Personally, I agree with Sarkozy that there should be an increase in the amount of years worked by transportation workers. It only makes sense that people should start working longer as life expectancies increase. Yet, I respect the workers for voicing their opinions and standing up for their rights.

Hopefully, the strike will end soon, and the annoyance of having to walk to and from school every morning for several hours will be over, otherwise my legs are going to be ridiculously toned by the time I get home. Now, on second thought, maybe the strike isn’t so bad after all …

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