the winter of French discontent, nationwide strike starts December 5th

The French are discontented. So, what else is new?

Tens of thousands of public service workers with the RATP (Paris transportation network) and SNCF (French national railway) will be striking against President Macron’s proposed reforms to pension benefits, which he says will “transform society” for the better and update a system some consider sclerotic and outdated.

Macron contends that this is necessary to balance France’s deficit and stimulate the economy; unions and other critics argue that these measures will “sacrifice a generation” of workers who have relied on the security of solid, no, let’s say ‘very generous’, pension benefits. Their concerns are shared by “yellow-vest” protestors who fear increasing precarity and decreased benefits as France aims to slash its deficit and stimulate the economy.

Beginning at 10 pm on Wednesday December 4th, but officially starting on Thursday December 5th, no one knows how long the strikes will last. Could be a few days, could be a few weeks. It is imperative that travelers to France stay informed of developments. Some predict the strikes could paralyze transportation until Christmas Day.

Unions have been warning of “zero metro and zero RER” service in Paris. Lines 1 and 14 of the Paris Metro, which are driverless and automated, are expected to run during the strike period. Buses and tramways operated by the RATP are also expected to be severely affected, with greatly reduced service during the strikes. In addition, “yellow vest” protestors have vowed to block traffic in Paris, potentially further disrupting road traffic.

Trains operated by the SNCF – from regional to national, high-speed TGV lines – may grind to a halt or near-halt as part of the action, and worry that it could lead to weeks of trains not operating at all should government fail to reach an agreement with workers.

Right now there is little concrete information on how badly Eurostar and Thalys trains between Paris, London, Amsterdam, Brussels and other international destinations will be affected by the strike.

Air France may also see workers strike, which may give travelers cause to avoid using the carrier in December.

Below are the latest OECD statistics showing the percentage of an average salary that retirees receive in eleven different countries around the world: Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Denmark, Sweden, Greece, United States, Japan, Poland and Great Britain. After a full career, the French retirement pension represents 74% of one’s last salary; that’s less than in Spain, Portugal and Italy.

This chart below illustrates the average exit age from the labor market in these same countries. Up until 2010, the legal retirement age in France was 60 years old. Today it is 62. However, the French government is encouraging workers to stay longer in the workforce; and the French are balking at this idea. For me personally, where the average retirement age in Canada has been 65 for as long as I remember, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.


Rita Hayworth, silverscreen goddess

Let’s take a break from this coarse, brutish world and travel back to the mid-1940s of Hollywood.

rita bw one

When I watched the classic 1946 film, Gilda, for the very first time just a few years ago, I was subjugated by the beauty (inside and out) of Rita Hayworth. Why it took me so long to see Gilda is beyond me, but everything about the movie blew me away, including the controlled and gritty performance from a young Glenn Ford. Gilda is the role that defined Rita Hayworth. A professional dancer too, she could hold her own in any performance. (She danced with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.)



Rita and Glenn in Gilda

But what a sad personal life she had. Rita’s real name was Margarita Carmen Cansino and she started dancing at the age of 6 to support her family. Throughout her teen years she was subjected to sexual and physical abuse by her father who was also her dancing partner. She would be exploited by men for most of her life – in her personal life, her professional life and even in the onscreen characters she played. Her five failed marriages included Orson Welles and playboy Prince Aly Khan. She would maintain a lifelong friendship with Glenn Ford who played opposite her in Gilda. Her later years were marked with struggles with alcoholism, and then the disease that ultimately took her from us in 1987 at the age of 68: Alzheimer’s.

Rita and Glenn burned up the screen with sexual tension. In 1946, this was OFF THE CHARTS! And the tension was real because not only were they lovers in the film, they were also lovers in real life.

Here’s a YouTube video of extracts from Gilda –