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Update on Paris Protests

If you are planning a trip to Paris, you’re probably wondering (after seeing news footage of crowds of students on Champs de Mars and riot police chasing students) whether you should rethink your plans for visiting Paris.
First, I have to tell you that I’m not physically in Paris but after phone calls to friends and neighbors in the Montparnasse area, here’s the latest news.
The important thing to realize is that this is a very serious issue not only to students but it’s an issue that’s also been taken up by other segments of French society – particularly the transporation unions which is why two days ago 60 percent of the Paris Metro system was on strike. The strike lasted for one day.
About three million people (according to the phone conversation with a friend who follows the French news reports) throughout France protested the newly enacted law which would allow employers to fire workers 26 or younger during the first two years of employment for any reason.
Of the actual protesters, approximately 600 people have been actually arrested.
In Paris, there are two aspects of the protests – the students and the additional influx of people in the Paris metropolitan area who have joined in the protest in a more violent way – i.e. breaking windows, destoying property and theft. Ironically, the people who have become victims of theft are the students! Apparently, cell phones are being stolen.
I asked about the situation in general ‘on the streets’ and my contact insinuated the overall picture from a tourists view point of the city is fine. You may discover disruption of transportation services depending on whether the transport sector decides to continue strikes. May is traditionally a strike month – so it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if more strikes would occur. The Eiffel Tower had been closed at one point during the disturbances.
The general feeling of my contact was that the media has once again grossly overblown the proportion of the protests, particularly in Paris.
He said that there will probably be some resignations in the political sector and there will need to be some compromises. There are approximately 400,000 unemployed college graduates who’ve been deemed ‘overqualified’. The recent law is the culmination of a number of laws directed at the young work force.
Perhaps this last law was the last straw. Another friend (who has employed the same person for fifteen years) commented that perhaps the government has lacked ‘subtley’.
Another friend who has just recently entered the work force (and is under the age 26 – agrees with the newly enacted law).
Needless to say there is need for dialogue and both sides need to be heard to reach some sort of compromise. (Please excuse my editorializing!)
For those of you who are currently in Paris, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that our ‘news’ stateside consists primarily quick shots of students running every which way across the Champs de Mars, police in riot gear – these are news ‘flashes’ so we don’t get any interviews with students on location. We have seen some very controlled debate between French citizens here in the US (primiarily Washington D.C. representing the both views. It certainly would be nice to see a little bit more commentary from people on location, and sorry to say I am not there to do this, but if you’re reading this in France and have any comments, please post them.
One French friend said to me that “We French are very quick to talk about what needs to be fixed in other countries, but we are less willing to recognize that things need to be changed in our own country.”
Some people (here in the US) have noted that this protest differs from the 68 protest in that people are demanding that government does NOT change – specifically – the laws that have protected employees from being fired in the past.
If you are planning to visit Paris in the near future, you might want to take some time to be aware of some of the issues so that you will understand the exisitng tensions.
Hopefully a compromise will be reached in the near future and employees and employers can prepare for a ‘carefree’ summer vacation among family and friends, reassured that they will have jobs in September – and thriving businesses!