Workers sabotaged power networks, lorry drivers blocked motorways, trains stopped running, schools shut down and even the Eiffel Tower was off-limits to visitors, as nationwide action against proposed pension reforms entered its third week in France.
Discussions between unions and the government this week failed to break the deadlock, meaning the worst strikes in decades are set to carry on across the country until January.
Despite the disturbances, and the prospect of Christmas travel chaos, public support for the strikes remains unwavering. The most recent poll showed 62 per cent of people support the strikes – up three points from a similar poll last week.
“The majority of French people support the action because they are not fooled,” Danielle Simonnet, an elected member of the Paris city council, told The Independent. “They know that with these reforms we will all lose.”
Simonnet joined mass protests on Tuesday, which saw more than half a million people join street demonstrations throughout France calling on President Emmanuel Macron to drop plans to introduce a universal pension scheme. The reforms were one of Macron’s flagship election promises, which he claims are necessary to revitalise France’s economy.
Critics say the reforms are a betrayal of workers’ rights within one of the world’s most socially progressive systems. For most, they will mean working longer for less, with a new “pivot age” of 64 forcing people to work an extra two years to receive a full pension.
Attempts to frame the narrative against the industrial action backfired over the weekend, after one reporter’s attempts to sow discontent among commuters resulted in the hashtag “Proud of the strike” trend across social media.
A TV journalist at BFMTV was at Gare de Lyon station in Paris on Friday after national rail firm SNCF announced train cancellations for 23 and 24 December. After she suggested that travellers were fed up of the strikes, a passerby interrupted the report to say they were “embarrassed by the tone”.
She continued: “This is a very difficult period… but the real problem is not the people on strike. We have to look elsewhere.”
It is a sentiment shared by protestors, who say that Macron’s neoliberal agenda favours businesses and those already well-off over ordinary workers. Macron, a former investment banker, has faced similar accusations since long before the strikes began through the Yellow Vest protests, which have now entered their 58th consecutive weekend of unrest.
Paris has felt the worst of the disruptions, as protestors clashed with police, trading tearing gas for petrol bombs. Half of the 16 metro lines in the capital were not running at all on Saturday, with a further six experiencing severe disruption. The only two lines running normally are the line 1 and line 14 – both of which operate without human drivers.
At over-crowded bus stops, people spilled off pavements and onto the street over the weekend, with any buses that were running often too full to pick up more passengers.
One way to get across the city was on the free-floating bicycles and e-scooters, however unions were angered by public transport operator RATP’s decision ahead of the strikes to team up with the companies to offer discounts for commuters.
Union leaders described the move as a “provocation” designed to undermine the action. Since the strikes began, thousands of electric scooters in Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux have been vandalised by protestors.
Lime, the largest e-scooter operator in Paris, did not give exact figures for how many of its machines have been damaged in recent weeks. A spokesperson for the firm also did not comment on the strikes, simply telling The Independent: “Vandalising our electric scooters disrupts the thousands of Parisians who use them to travel around the city at this busy time of year.”