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Strikes in France – what to know

France strikes - taken from The Economist (link below)

France strikes – taken from The Economist (link below)

Essential reading from The Economist (May 27)
Article here focuses on all that is going on in France.

Update May 27 from US Embassy Paris:

Full link to travel advisory

“…The following strikes have been announced for the week of May 30:

Rail – The national unions which represents rail workers renewed their call for strikes limiting rail services along the TVG, RER and SNCF networks. An “unlimited strike” is scheduled to start at 9 am on Tuesday, May 31 for a period of at least 24 hours.

Paris-area Public Transportation – The union representing the Paris metro area transportation (RATP) has called for an “unlimited strike” starting on June 2 of all public transportation services, including the Paris metro, buses, and RER trains.

Air – Air traffic controllers have also called for strikes Friday, June 3 to Sunday, June 5 which could result in delays or cancellations of flights originating in France…”

By now, you have probably heard that France has been undergoing rounds of strikes and protests over the past couple months. This is in large part due to proposed labor reforms. Of course most of you know that strikes and public outcry are a way of life in France that most people tend to accept with a shrug.

The Local France has an interesting piece on this cultural reality, as well as countless publications in the past including BBC and Slate. Even The Onion got in on the humor with a fake French protest image back in 2005.

But this time seems to be different: these are arguably the strikes with the most impact in 20 years. Taken with the ongoing “state of emergency” that France has put into place since the November terrorist attacks (and have extended), France has a palpable undercurrent of tension.

For now, what you should know about the strikes: 
These strikes are affecting transportation, oil refineries, nuclear power stations and more throughout the country. The BBC outlines the main points of the proposed reforms here along with more coverage of the action. I’ve laid those out at the end of this post.

The Economist also has an interesting piece on the strikes – anticipating action throughout the summer.

Another useful guide is from the great folks at The Local. Local resources in France for tracking news updates include the SNCF website, which currently states that traffic should start resuming to normal May 27 but to keep abreast of updates. Their travel agency Voyages SNCF also has a helpful resource for train travel updates.

You should also stay abreast of airline travel through your local airline. Aéroports de Paris does have general updates as well for Paris Orly and Paris CDG traffic.

BFM TV, Libération, France 24 and Le Monde are also great resources.

At the time of this being published, there have been clashes reported by protestors in Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux and other major cities. Your local embassy should be the best resource for expat nationals living and traveling in France for up to date security information. The US Embassy, for example, has contact info here and updates on their Twitter feed.

Want to brush up on your French travel vocabulary? Try About.com or FluentU.

If you have travel plans to France or are thinking of moving there in the coming year, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so – just do your research and travel intelligently. I have lived in France for 30% of my entire life at different times as an intern, student, grad student, English teacher and employee. It is a place that is dear to me, and I would love for you to also have those life-changing experiences.

Travel smartly, safely and avoid protest areas. Take a lesson from my French friends and enjoy life, drink some wine and sit back to see how this evolves. C’est la vie, enfin.

French labour reform bill – main points

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn
  • Employers given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated

How French media is adapting to Web 2.0 name bans

The BBC has a short video report featuring interviews with French journalists about the recent ban on citing Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social network companies on air. This stems from a French law preventing the promotion of brands on news broadcasts.

So instead of saying “Follow France24 on Twitter and Facebook”, they will have to say “Follow France24 on our social network channels” or something of the like. Not a big change perhaps, but the debate is whether or not these companies have penetrated the social fabric of our culture so deeply that their names are cultural references first, brands second.

What do you think?

You can watch the video here.

French media reaction to US midterms

November 3rd, 2010 4 comments

Following my post on US election coverage in France, the media is now reacting to the results: a convincing Republican victory in the House of Representatives, in state legislatures and governors races, whereas the Democrats held on to a majority – though not fillibuster proof of 60 – in the Senate. If you want inside DC news, I recommend Politico. BBC has a quality special report on the elections as well. The Economist also features an insightful debate about the outcome of the elections and what they could mean for US politics in the next couple years:

http://economist.pb.feedroom.com/pb-comp/economist/custom8/player.swf?Environment=&SiteID=economist&SiteName=TheEconomist&SkinName=custom8&ChannelID=13f850c882b46b0d9f3ebe670ff8fa7cade671c7&StoryID=1ff082cd3d0e256fa57b768554dab0c48cad8175&Volume=.5

On the French side, Le Figaro has a special report covering the people, the events and the US political system with insight. In an interesting poll asking readers if they are satisfied by the US election results, the responses are almost split: just over 50% say “no”, begging the question if readers of the Figaro are happy that Obama suffered a political setback, that the US government will be split or if they are relieved Democrats held on to the Senate. It would be better to have some context here.

France 24 gives a special video report on the results and presents complete coverage.

Libération has a special report on the elections as well. Le Point adds to the mix with interesting pieces on Obama and the GOP and the rise of the Tea Party.

Le Monde writes a feature on the same subject and gives an interesting video of how the elections were viewed from France.

Stratfor offers an interesting analysis of foreign views of the US midterms and Obama abroad.

Bonjour Paris – French strikes update

October 30th, 2010 No comments

I write for Bonjour Paris and this week focus on an update on the French strike situation and the government pension reform. It looks like the strike action is down, after relatively low turnout on Oct. 28, but Nov. 6 strikes are still planned, and some public transport will still be disrupted. For flights, best to check with your airline company beforehand that your flight is still on schedule. I will update my blog accordingly too. Excerpts below:

from Figaro

Logistically, how is France faring now? Oil refineries are opening back up, as workers are heading back to their jobs after strikes blocked the refineries around the country. All 12 refineries will be open now. But as of Thursday there were still about 20% of service stations with a shortage of fuel, thereby impacting those taking the long Toussaint weekend for travel.

There were minor disturbances on the transport systems of the major cities in France and on the SNCF railways, but overall there was less action this time around. Indeed, even the liberal Libération conceded a weak turnout, saying the movement “was on leave” but that the unions would likely strike back again. But conservative Figaro says that given the low turnout, there are doubts about the momentum of the movement. Figaro also put out a great graphic comparing retirement systems across countries.

So far, strike action is still planned for Saturday Nov. 6. I will update my blog on the strike situation for transport, and you can also find information on SNCF here and other info from France 24. If you are flying, call your airline company for specific information on flight cancelations and delays. For public transport options from Paris airports to downtown, check out this site, knowing that during strikes, it is best to avoid the RER B and opt for another choice.

To end, I leave you with two insightful pieces – albeit from an “Anglo-Saxon” perspective – about the French strikes. The first one from BBC News compares strikers in France to those in other countries. Then The Economist writes that strike action is less powerful than it used to be: “Mr Sarkozy took a bet that there was a silent majority prepared to accept change, however much they disliked it. It looks like paying off.”

Oct. 20 update on French strikes: transport, fuel, schools

October 20th, 2010 2 comments

Following yesterday’s big day of “action” around the country against the retirement reform proposals, the Paris metro and bus system is running on normal schedule, mostly (“normal ou quasi normal” according to their site). But check the “traffic” part and you’ll see that suburban and Ile de France regional trains are partially disrupted, often running at 50%. Also, 30 flights were cancelled this morning from Paris Orly.

Lyon’s TCL transport system is disrupted today, with no metro on the Presqu’ile downtown area due to clashes. Try to stay out of that area. You can get more inside info on Lyon at Le Progres (Lyon newspaper) site.

There are some SNCF train disruptions in France and with connecting trains to other countries (like no overnight trains tonight between France & Italy and France & Germany…). TGV’s to and from Paris are running 2 out of 3, and TGV’s outside of Paris at 50%. More details on that site, France 24’s survival guide and Figaro’s guide.

These past couple days have been marred by violence in Lyon and parts of Paris area, among other places, between youth and police. France 24 reports on this. They also have some pictures from Lyon here.

President Sarkozy is calling for the strikers to “be responsible” and recognized that although the reform is difficult, it is necessary, and his government had included special measures for specific work cases such as those who started work early and those in particularly arduous jobs. The reform vote has been delayed until Thursday, and a poll by Figaro finds that nearly 70% want to see the reform passed as soon as possible. (Note: Figaro is more conservative. Nouvel Obs is more leftist and has a poll where 62% of respondents want to continue the strikes).

Meanwhile Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux is firing back at thugs who erupted in violence yesterday and today, saying they will not be left unpunished.

As thousands of gas stations have run dry, the government is now freeing up fuel depots with force of special riot police similar to a SWAT team, but some remain blocked by extremist strikers who like taking the country hostage for their own interests. Flights in and out of France are said to be carrying enough fuel for the return journey.

High school students and youths are still calling for protest today, even though the reform is in their interest. They should be screaming “we don’t want a pension” as they strike. I understand concerns about unemployment, but that can be addressed by other measures. They are mad at Sarkozy for what they see as extravagance and wastefulness on the part of the government, which is in part true. But that does not mean pension reform is not necessary. BBC looks into this with an insightful special called “children of the revolution.”

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