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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 November 2007, 17:55 GMT
France strike: How people got around
France is still facing travel chaos as transport unions continue a strike in protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reforms. Commuters and tourists in France told us how the industrial action is affecting them.

CARINE, LEGAL SECRETARY, PARIS

Ingrid Savarry decided to come in on a scooter. Photo: Grandjouan N.
Ingrid Savarry decided to use a scooter to get to work

I have just arrived at work at 9.30 and I left home at about 7.00. I live in the southern suburbs of Paris.

Yesterday I spent more than two and a half hours in the car. It is hard for everybody, especially for people in the suburbs because the trains around Paris are affected and people who live in suburbs are not rich.

On my way back from work yesterday I spoke to a fellow commuter, Ingrid Savarry, who was on this unusual mode of transport which is a cross between a surfboard and a bike - a scooter?

She lives in the western suburbs of Paris, at La Garenne Colombe and usually takes the train at La Garenne Colombe upto St Lazare in Paris.

But with the strike there was no train so she left home at 8.15 by scooter to go to La Defense station where the metro was less bad. She was lucky because she did not have to wait long to get a train, but it was crowded.

Ingrid said it was quite funny at the moment but not if the strike lasts.

I myself understand the strikers. The government wants to remove rights that our ancestors obtained with difficulty last century.

But the work is not harder than it was then. So I don't agree with their demand to retire early. It is selfish, because we are lucky with our pension system compared to some other systems.

If we want to keep our pensions, reforms are necessary. If I were them I would say 'Ok I'll make an effort but you, the government and big companies, have to do the same'.

ALEXIS DE SAINT-ALBIN, PRIVATE PENSIONS COMPANY, PARIS

information panel showing line 14 normal. Pic: Richard Tromans
The automated line 14 was the only metro line running as normal

The sky is blue in Paris, therefore the "normal" workers, who do not share the same benefits in terms of working conditions and pension schemes as the strikers, can ride their bikes.

If they are lucky like me, they can take the line 14 of the French underground: as it is an automatic line, it does not go on strike.

Some people at work have taken leave and some couldn't get to work. But some biked in. The dress code was informal - people were in jeans and casual shoes, not the clothes they normally wear.

I am not necessarily in favour of Sarkozy, but it is unfair that some people have to work for 40 years to get a full pension and others only 30 years.

RICHARD TROMANS, JOURNALIST, PARIS

picture: Richard Tromans
A deserted Jules Joffrin metro station, usually busy at noon

I live in Montmartre, Paris, and usually the street outside is busy with buses. Today it is almost silent.

My girlfriend has decided to walk to work - in Bastille - that's about an hour walk. Her boss has said that if coming in is too hard then not to bother.

I would guess that about 30% of Parisians do not have access to a car (impossible to park here and you have to hire a garage space to keep a car), nor would they want to try to cycle (far too dangerous on wet and leaf-covered cobbled roads). This means that a large number of companies and services will be without employees too if people choose not to walk.

The worst bit is that the strike could go on until Friday.

The key difference between transport strikes here and back in London is that when the Tube strikes the buses keep running. Here the strike is total; no buses, no trains, no metro, no overland, no trams, nothing. Final point: If Sarko gives in on this one his entire reform package will falter.

COLETTE CATRINA, TEACHER, MONTPELLIER

Colette Catarina in Montpellier, France
Colette Catarina was not directly affected in Montpellier

I do support the strikers since it appears to be the only way to be heard in France. As a consequence of many factors such as high cost of living, no pay-rises, privatisation of public services, lack of nurses, teachers, post office employees, too much proximity between government and media, French people have seen their standard of living going drastically low and they are asking the government to stop.

This has not prevented Mr Sarkozy applying a 140% rise on his wages and this is absolutely disgraceful as he said on 1 July he would only consider a 9 rise on workers minimum wages for the year to come.

I have not been directly affected by the railway strikes but other teachers have. Some rode to school, others shared their cars and some others were invited to stay overnight at some friends.

Actually the strikes developed much communication and empathy between people and the majority of my work colleagues supported the movement because it is at the core of their main worries about pension reforms. They all will be on strike themselves on 24 November to ask for pay rises and protest against reforms which favour wealthy and well off people.

SHANE MCCARRICK, ON HOLIDAY IN FRANCE

picture: Shane McCarrick
Bumper-to-bumper traffic as more people were forced to use their cars

I'm in Paris with my wife on holidays, and we had the misfortune to pick this week.

Our hotel staff have had rooms allocated to them, and the guests given detailed maps of how to get to the most popular areas on foot.

There was a riot at reception earlier- when it was announced that there were problems booking taxis and cabs to get to and from the airport later in the week. It's far more lucrative for the cabbies to keep in the city centre with their hiked fares.

The rental bikes that everyone has been going on about are nowhere to be seen - I think we will have very well exercised feet by this evening. Now all I have to do is figure how to get from Grand Boulevard to Porte de Villette by foot. The science museum beckons - we hope!

Oh well - we can always make a few detours for some cafe creme, on the way.

KIM MAROHN, PRIVATE SECTOR WORKER, PARIS

picture: Kim Marohn
Few rental cycles were to be found. These girls discovered the last two had punctured tyres

Yes, we have been affected by the strike. It has greatly curtailed my ability to get around Paris, both for work and personal errands.

My mother was over for a visit during the last strikes, I was unable to make it to the airport to meet her, and our long awaited opera was cancelled.

Today, I will have to use the public bicycle service and walk to my client's office.

I definitely do not support these strikes by any means, and wish Sarkozy all the best.

I work in the private sector here in France, and do not actually benefit from all the wonderful perks that come with a public sector job - 35-hour working weeks, five weeks paid vacation, early retirement, etc.

I am also obliged to pay maximum rates for taxes and social charges, since I am self-employed, and cannot deduct for my spouse or children.

In fact, I work very hard for fairly little gain. I have a debt with the bank, and no "cushion" nor guarantee for an "easy life" when I am 60.

I write this because these things are not personal. In fact they are quite typical of a fairly large portion of the population over here.

I work with people like myself, and I run into them all the time - in cafes, commiserating at bus stops, helping each other, trying to get the public bicycle stands to work.

JON BURNS, US BACKPACKER TRAVELLING ACROSS EUROPE

I'm a backpacker who has been travelling across Europe for almost two months.

I dodged the Die Bahn strikes three times in Germany, I arrived in Budapest the evening of Hungary's national holiday, I walked through Rome during their metro strike, and I was doing pretty good at avoiding these situations.

But Paris finally got me. I arrived right before this mess erupted, and depart in the middle of it. Hopefully Eurostar will not be affected.

With a strict budget and sinking dollar, my trip to Paris has been ruined. I can't see Versailles, I bought 12 metro tickets to hop around Paris, and my hostel is about two to three hours away from most attractions by foot.

I will have to spend a third of my budget on a taxi just to get to Gare de Nord since it would take me four hours to get there by foot with my heavy gear. But hey, what can you do?

I support these strikes even though I'm directly affected. After seeing what's happened to my country and the "reforms" they have imposed on civil servants and labour unions, I want these unions to stay strong and be effective.

I really hope they pull through, France has such a great transportation system and maybe next time I return I can actually use it.

HANNAH COWIE, STUDENT, PARIS

I'm an Erasmus student at the Sorbonne. I am yet to have a full week of classes this year. If the striking students will actually let me in to the buildings at Clignancourt or Malesherbes, the public transport is inevitably in chaos due to a strike, so I still cannot attend class.

My studies are beginning to become seriously affected.

The situation has become ridiculous. They strike first, and ask questions later.

Personally, I don't think Sarkozy should give in to their demands or their striking. Why should he? His policies and ideas are perfectly in keeping with other countries' and the changing times.

Universities cost money to run. I mean, he's not introducing tricky concepts, they just don't follow the French mode de vie.



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