Alden DuMontierWednesday, April 19, 2023
A protest in front of the French Pantheon and the University of Paris. Photo by Alden DuMontier.
Across France, a proposed pension reform raising the retirement age for workers has triggered mass protest. According to CNN, at one point there were around 1.3 million protesters rallying in reaction to the French government raising the pension age from 62 to 64. Protestors in Paris blocked a main terminal at Charles De Gaulle Airport, and a visit by King Charles III had to be postponed. There were many strikes, which led to enormous amounts of trash in the streets and staffing shortages. I arrived in France on March 24, 11 days after the protests began.
I luckily was not a witness to any violence (or trash mountains) during my stay, as many of the protests and strikes were put on hold. Why? I believe that the rioting and strikes stopped temporarily because of the Paris Marathon, which started Sunday, April 2. The reason why I believe the marathon helped ease things down was due to the sheer number of people who came to participate or watch. According to Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris, there were around 250,000 spectators and 60,000 runners. Around a third of these runners came from different countries. Since Paris relies heavily on tourism, I believe that the strikes stopped before this to allow sanitation workers to return to their jobs and ensure that the city is clean. My thought is that other striking workers returned to their jobs because a majority of the jobs in Paris are tourist-reliant, and the number of tourists would bring in income for them.
A Loire Valley guide I spoke with said that the pause in the protests would only stop temporarily. I believed her because, once Paris Marathon would finish, a large majority of the participants and tourists would leave. The ongoing protests prove the guide right.
Interestingly, the guide said that the protests occurred only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. My dad said he thought that was odd because American protests often occur on weekends. The tour guide responded by saying that the protests occurred on Wednesdays because historically there was no school on Wednesdays.
A few of the other guides on our tours joked that protesting is just what France does and has been doing forever, all the way back to the French Revolution. When I was there I didn't see anything major, but I did see some smaller protests: two were about the pension reforms and one was about raising wages for Apple employees.
Getting out into the streets is clearly a part of French culture, so who knows what the future will bring? I don't think that will permanently slow down anytime soon.
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