For Stephane, a Parisian shopkeeper, today’s demonstration is one too many. “It’s not good for business”, he says while closing his store just before the civil servants demo arrives.
But among the people walking, the mood is quite different. It’s fun. Students sing with enthusiasm, a few bands are playing, sausages and beers are sold from little stands. It’s a very typical French protest.
Except maybe one guy decked out in a red suit and Dali mask, dressed as one of the heroes of the Spanish TV show “La casa de papel”, singing the revolutionary song Bella Ciao, with a “Force Ouvriere” union sticker on his suit.
It clearly doesn’t matter to him that the series is produced by Netflix, a US company that doesn’t really bother too much with taxes or copyrights, let alone labour rights or unions.
This is the third time civil servants hit the streets since Macron took office over a year ago. Nine unions have called for a strike, to fight for civil servants status and public amenities, for the first time in a decade.
More than 130 demonstrations are planned. Union representatives already that say their discussions with the government did not get off to a good start.
Another protest march is scheduled for 26 May, with all the left and most unions taking part. Former MEP Jean-Luc Melenchon claims 2 million people will be there. But for the time being, the number of people joining the unrest is quite light with only 340,000 people in the biggest one.
France has had to cope with train strikes, university strikes, school strikes and even air strikes. Taking to the street seems to be the only way for socialists and the left to be heard as they have few seats in parliament where the right and centre dominate.
“Civil servants should not pay the bill of suppressing the tax on wealthy people,” former President François Hollande said in the morning as the Socialist party tried to rally.
Demonstrators say they are disappointed with Macron. Students worry about the selection process being organised for next year, retired people for their money, forest workers fear the end of their organisation as a public service.
As the flow of grumbling people seems to grow, Macron does not seem to care at all. It’s as if the protests are happening in another country. Or another time. Or century.
His plan to reduce the number of civil servants by 120,000 people over five years is still there, and Macron knows he will have to build a dialogue with unions at some point.
But that’ll have to be put on the back-burner. With European elections looming, the priority for the French president is negotiating with Germany on the eurozone. Social unrest will have to wait, and grow, to grab a place in his agenda.
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