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Train Strike, again… November 11, 2007

Posted by gordonwatts in Marseille, physics life.
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This week is the next step in the battle of the workers v. Sarkozy (the president of France). As usual in this battle it means the nation’s transportation network will shut down. Unlike last time, it sounds like this will go on for longer than one day. Also, unlike last time, this is going to be a major pain for me – and cost me quite a bit of extra money.

It will start on Tuesday evening around 8pm. As far as I know, it will only affect the main train lines and anything else run by the SNCF (which would be just about anything with train wheels in France).

I’m getting caught because I’m attending a cool mini-conference/workshop, Detecting the Unexpected, on Friday and Saturday. My flight to the US is Weds afternoon. So I will travel to Paris a day early. But the train strike is making everything very expensive – there is not a single hotel room to be had near the airport. So I’ll stay in downtown Paris (not cheap!). Normally – this would be great! But transportation to the airport the next day is going to be very messy because of the strike. Initially I though I’d take a plane from Marseille to Paris – but it is going to be over 2000 euros to go! I’m sure that is because lots of people who wanted to travel by train have switched.

So what is the strike over? And what does the French President have to do with train workers? First, I don’t claim to understand what is going on here. But I’ll open my mouth and put my foot in…

Well, just as in the USA, the government sets hiring, firing, and retirements for the public sector workers. Unlike the USA, train workers are part of the public sector. The particular issue last time was a special provision that allowed some workers to retire at 50 on full pensions. As with every government around the world, the French one is trying to trim costs. My impression is that Sarkosy mostly backed down on this one. This time, however, the action targets a broader cross section — something like a 1/2 million that get to put in money 2.5 years less than the other workers. Sarko’s argument is that the pension system is costing too much money and needs reform and cost reduction badly.

At any rate, I’ve been caught in the cross fire to the tune of at least 200 bucks. No telling what shape things will be in when I return on the following Monday.

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