Not a myth...
Before coming to France I had heard, on several occasions, of the country's repuatation of 'always' being on strike and wondered how true it was. It seems I have turned up at the perfect time to witness the answer to my question first hand as France enters what journalists are forseeing as 'Sarkozy's month of discontent'.
There has already been one day of strikes by transport workers since I arrived and tonight at 20.00 began another, this time of 'indeterminate' length; every evening workers will vote as to whether or not they want the strike to continue. As I understand it the members of certain professions (such as the SNCF and energy companies) have benifited (up until now) from a special pensions arrangement because, back in the day, their job was considered 'dangerous' or in some way threatening to their live expectancy and thus, they were given a lower state retirement age (as low as 50). The health risks associated with these jobs have obviously been significantly reduced in recent years, and Sarkozy plans to get rid of this costly special arrangement. Of course, the workers aren't too happy about this. And these strikes are major...I mean a lot of Paris will be brought to a stand still, there are a very limited number of TGVS running, major problems for the Eurostar (the inauguration of the new faster London-Paris service was planned for tomorrow...uh oh!), and if it wasn't for the buses I would be in for major problems getting to Bergerac for my plane on Friday.
However, on top of this, there is a whole different set of problems...this time involving students. The French government (or 'Sarkozy' as the papers write) has recently passed a law giving universities a much greater degree of autonomy. Many see this as 'privatisation-by-stealth' as University directors will be encouraged to act like CEOs and compete for funding from private enterprises. The law was passed quickly during the summer holidays in an attempt to avoid the mass movement of students which has now begun. There have already been well-attended meetings and strikes at many of the larger Universities, and blockades of train stations are now planned to coincide with the forthcoming strikes I described above.
And that's not it...Air France cabin crew have just ended a five day strike over pay and conditions, it'll be the turn of teachers and civil servants on the 20th, and of the justice system on the 29th.
I don't think this is an average month, but it certainly seems the importance of strikes and workers unions is much, much greater here than it has been at home for many years now...several newspapers have made reference to Thatcher v the coal miners. It's going to be a difficult month for the government, for Sarkozy in particular who is 6 months into his 5-year term and seems to be taking this on as a rather personal battle, and indeed for the average French population, 55% of whom find the transport strikes 'unjustified'.