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The French strikes and the surprising virtues they reveal



Cerith Gardiner - published on 03/26/23

With France experiencing further strikes that are set to cripple the country, the youth are showing huge compassion.

Having lived in France for over 20 years, I’ve experienced my fair share of strikes. From schoolteachers to transportation staff, postal workers to garbage collectors, the French strikes, or “grèves,” can be relentless and exhausting, yet strangely unifying.

As a Brit whose early years were under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, the socialist leanings of the French often seem a little alien to me — in fact, I think in England and America there is more focus on the individual to forge their lives with less help from government. But at the moment, seeing some of my Gallic friends and loved ones up in arms about the new pension reforms, I do have admiration for their fighting spirit.

In case you’re unaware of the situation, here’s a very brief lowdown: The French government, under the presidency of Emmanuel Macron, has been pushing to raise the official retirement age to 64, from the present 62. This was met with huge opposition from lots of French people. (Again, this is something I don’t really understand as the retirement age in England is already higher than this!)

My initial thoughts about this increase was that we’re all getting older, life is getting more expensive, and society has to adapt. But when I shared these thoughts with some of my French friends, they were pretty amazed at how I could accept such a change to the rights of our fellow French citizens. And it made me realize– leaving the pension reforms aside — how apathetic I’ve been in not always fighting for what I believe to be right.

To make matters worse

And now voices are rising to an even angrier level. President Macron recently took the decision to push through the reforms using article 49.3, which allows the government to pass bills without the approbation of the parliament. This has caused huge protests throughout the country, with further hard-hitting strikes scheduled to take place.

In fact, as I’m typing this, there is a two-meter deep, 2-meter high, and 15-meter long pile of garbage in front of my home, due to the strike of garbage collectors for the last two weeks. The smell is atrocious, the rats are fattening up, and I’m just grateful that the hot summer days are still a few months away.

I’ve also had to contend with not being able to get to work easily, and have walked more miles in the last month than I had in the previous year.

In true French spirit, as I walk to work, dodging scooters, cyclists, roller-bladers, and millions of other pedestrians, there is a sense of solidarity. While some people complain about the inconvenience of garbage piling up and commutes taking much longer, others are siding with the strikers and are accepting of how they need to make a sacrifice for what they believe will benefit others.

Now, I should add that I’m not so sure their cause is justified, as I’m no economist or politician. And although there is division in the country, seeing people fight for a cause is somewhat heartening; all the more so when there are young people fighting for what they believe is social justice.

I see this in my own 22-year-old daughter, and my many students of around the same age. They’re going on protests, they’re sharing their beliefs on every social media network they can get their hands on, and they’re reading up about what’s at stake. Of course, they can be misguided, but I do appreciate the fact that they’re not just sitting at home playing their computer games.

These youngsters, who so often get dubbed “snowflakes,” are passionate and compassionate. They want to protect the people they believe will be more vulnerable to these new measures, members of society who don’t always have a voice, even if it means making their own lives more difficult.

So as I look at the piles of rubbish being stacked higher and higher, and I prepare for more lengthy commute, although it’s something I have difficulty agreeing with, I have a physical reminder of people coming together to fight for what they believe is right. And with lots of these people being young, it gives me hope for the future, and that maybe they’ll fight for me when I’m too old to do so myself.

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