The good news about the rail strike is that it’s still possible to get around on strike days. Buses and metros are operating normally in Paris and its suburbs, some high-speed trains are running and although it’s difficult to get into work on time, it’s not impossible. Unlike the last big rail strike in 1995, which also affected the bus and metro network, mobile apps give up-to-the minute information about which trains are running on what lines. The Internet also facilitates car-pooling and makes it possible for more and more people to do essential work from home.
A few days ago, I arrived five minutes before the time indicated on the app. at the station of a Western suburb of Paris to travel two stations down the line. The platform was crowded with building workers going home after work. They were mostly, I guess, of African origin although I also heard occasional snatches of East European languages. The train was on time but already packed, so not everyone could squeeze in. The next day I joined a 100-meter long queue of bemused Chinese tourists outside the Château de Versailles. They were waiting for a bus to take the 25-minute ride to the nearest terminus of the Paris metro. The bus was packed too. At one stop an old man in a wheelchair watched forlornly as the bus arrived and left again, leaving him no chance whatsoever of getting on.
As usual, a public transport strike affects most acutely those who have little choice but to use it to get from A to B.
As the series of rolling strikes ends its second week, prime time news still focuses on colourful street demonstrations with banners, flares and megaphones or resigned passengers stuck at mainline stations and union leaders continue to repeat their much rehearsed sound bites about the destruction of public services and the extinction of their “statut” (“A fair hearing” - March 2017). But out of the media spotlight, there are signs that the number of strikers is slowly dwindling. On Thursday in a TV interview, Emmanuel Macron chose his words carefully so as not to antagonise railway workers, but gently chided that they should refrain from spreading “irrational fears” like the bogeyman of SNCF privatisation which, he promised, was not on the agenda, pledging that the company would remain 100% public. Media attention has also been diverted to the long promised evacuation of the area around Notre Dame des Landes (“Cleared for take-off?”- December 2017) with its action packed pictures of fearsome looking riot police facing masked and helmeted demonstrators and trails of tear gas from grenades. Macron commented soberly that, “as the French would expect… republican order is being restored”. Coming back to the causes of the rail strikes, two days after the Assemblée Nationale voted to change the legal structure of the SNCF, he conceded that the state would gradually take on a part of its massive debt. As to the rest of the reform, he would, he said, “see it through”.
My feeling is that he will.