The nation of France is not at its height of popularity right now in the United States, to put it mildly. Primarily due to the French opposition of the war against Iraq, many Americans are boycotting French products and generally denouncing all that is French.
Sales of French wine have dropped. (See Daily Star article.) French food, whether imported or served at French restaurants, is still being boycotted (See Seafood.com article.). Even the most Americanized of diet staples, the French fry, has not escaped the wrath of some: in some places, including a Congressional cafeteria, they are now called “Freedom Fries. (See Daily Telegraph article.) Tensions between the countries, while abating somewhat due to the end of the war and attempts to normalize relations, still remain high, as France is now accusing the United States of engaging in a purposeful “disinformation” campaign to tar France as a collaborator with Iraq because of its opposition to U.S. military action to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime–a charge that US officials deny. (See UPI article.)
Whatever your feelings about France, however, you have to admit they know how to throw a good labor strike–one that really mobilizes workers and has a very visible (and often quite effective) impact. Today (5/14) in France was the second day of labor strikes involving more than a million workers and protestors. (See Expatica article.) The issue at stake: changes to the pension system, made necessary by France’s changing demographics which will cause the national fund to run a considerable deficit in future years if the same level of benefits is to be sustained.
The strike immediately had an impact: Some 80 percent of international and domestic flights have been cancelled at airports. Many hospitals, schools and post offices are reportedly closed. Over 100 protests have been planned across France with unionists threatening to further their cause. (See Channel News Asia article.) Those attending the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival were affected, as many were stranded at various points throughout Europe on their way to Cannes. (See Reuters article.)
It’s hard to conceive of any social cause, much less one related to pension reform, which would cause one million Americans (a much smaller percentage of the overall population here than the same number is in France) to take action, much less strike for a day or two. Hats off to the French labor unions, who have been very successful in creating a political climate where workplace concerns are near and dear to the hearts of the French citizenry. Workplace Fairness will continue to do its part to encourage more citizen involvement in workplace issues, as we would be extremely happy (and extremely effective in the political universe) if one million Americans each took five minutes to write a letter to their members of Congress about workplace issues. How many people can you personally encourage to join us?