Sarah Cross, Sciences Po Toulouse, France
Macron’s controversial decision to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 certainly has not gone down too well with French workers, with strikes and protests occurring all over the city, and country, since January. An estimated 50,000-100,000 people have taken part in each of the marches in Toulouse alone, with an estimate of over 3 million across France. Whilst precise numbers are heavily debated between the police and the CGT (the main left wing trade union group), it has been impossible to ignore the impact this reform proposal has had on French society.
The difference between strike action in France compared to the UK has been phenomenal. Whilst we are no strangers to strike action in the UK, different industries tend to be affected on different days. For example we may know there are planned train strikes on one day, and planned teacher strikes the following week, but they are generally spread out and on a smaller scale. In addition, they tend to be planned in advance so people can rearrange accordingly. The main difference I have noticed in France is that when one strikes, they all strike, with the goal of having the maximum impact on the public and politicians, pushing for change. Rail staff, pharmacy workers, fire fighters and council staff are just a handful among the volume of strikers which have been in attendance. Now 3 months in and over 10 general strikes later, the impact and attendance is, if anything, increasing, with solidarity and motivation like no other.
How have we, as exchange students, been affected?
Being on exchange at a university specifically for politics, it is unsurprising that both students and staff are actively involved in the strikes, despite the retirement age perhaps not a priority for them for a few years. The two images below show how French students at Sciences Po got involved, occupying the university and blocking entrances to classrooms and libraries. Our classes were unexpectedly cancelled off and on for several weeks in March, before a general assembly meeting with students and staff compromised that international students should be an exception. Due to this, we have since had classes and exams reinstated, whilst French students are now entering their 7th week of no university at all. Different universities have been affected at various levels, with some having everything on as normal, and others having all exams cancelled or moved online.
Trains, public transport, and air traffic control services have also been on strike consistently throughout France, however we have managed to use FlixBus and BlaBlaCar to continue being able to visit new places! It has been fascinating living in France during the ongoing strike action and the impact has been huge. They certainly aim for maximum disruption to strive for what they want, and the group solidarity highlights that it is something they all find pertinent.