Sometimes, it’s the enemy you know.
For all the security fears that have characterized the runup to the European Football Championship—Paris’ public viewing parties, a former police chief suggested, would offer terrorists “a chance for a massacre”—it’s labor strikes that threaten to “take France hostage” and disrupt the competition, which begins in the French capital on Friday.
Striking workers from the CGT, one of the largest French trade union confederations, have blocked access to the country’s largest incinerator and local garbage truck garages. Trash pickup has all but halted in about half of the city’s arrondissements, including in the touristy Latin Quarter. On Thursday morning, CGT workers blocked the entrance to Rungis, the world’s largest wholesale food market, in the suburbs of Paris.
The CGT protests, which have also affected trash pickup in Marseille and elsewhere, come after months of demonstrations against France’s El Khomri law, after French labor minister Myriam El Khomri. The most famous provision of that reform on this side of the Atlantic has been the right to not check your email on the weekend—le droit de la déconnexion—but the French labor unions view the whole package as a handout to management.
The El Khomri law will make it easier for companies to renegotiate contracts and fire workers (it’s currently really hard) and allow the government to increase the 35-hour work week to as much as 60 hours in “exceptional circumstances.”
At any rate, the timing—the French Senate will begin debate on the law next week—has created parallel problems for unions, whom the sports minister has accused of “spoiling the image of France,” and 10 of the country’s largest cities, which are preparing to welcome 1.5 million foreign visitors for the Euros.
Workers at the SNCF, the French railway company, have also been on strike for the past 10 days. On Thursday, Air France pilots announced a four-day strike, which may prompt the company to cancel 20 to 30 percent of flights on Saturday, the second day of the tournament. Fans heading for Friday night’s match between France and Romania at the Stade de France, the highest-profile event since the explosions there in November, are advised to arrive as early as possible, and the stadium will open three hours before kickoff.
The struggle continues, into next week anyway. The CGT has called for a general strike in Paris next Tuesday to fight this “19th-century law.”
You might have thought an international soccer tournament, one in which France is favored for the first time in more than a decade, would have put the people’s minds on other things. This has not been the case. We’re going to need more bread, and more circuses!