Sour notes for Macron from striking Paris Opera musicians

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a compromise between his government and unions over plans to change the pension system that have led to sustained strikes — including from Paris Opera musicians who staged a street concert in rebellion.

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a compromise between his government and unions over plans to change the pension system that have led to sustained strikes — including from Paris Opera musicians who staged a street concert in rebellion.

In a spirited, makeshift performance, Paris Opera musicians played excerpts Tuesday from “Carmen” and “Romeo and Juliet” on the front steps of the Opera Bastille, which served as a dramatic reminder of the rocky start to 2020 that awaits Macron.

Tuesday marked the 27th consecutive day of transport strikes. The Versailles Palace, usually a huge tourist draw, said it was closed Tuesday because of strikes, too.

In his televised New Year’s address, Macron said the pension overhaul “will be carried out” but called on his government to “find the path of a quick compromise” as negotiations with unions resume in early January.

Seeking to ease tensions, he suggested people with painful work will be allowed early retirement.

Yet Macron stayed firm on the principles of the reform, including its most decried measure: raising the eligibility age for full pensions from 62 to 64. He insisted that the new system will be fairer and financially sustainable.

“My only compass is our country’s interest,” he said.

Musicians who have put down their instruments since open-ended strikes started Dec. 5 reveled in the chance to play for the crowd that gathered to hear them on Paris’ Place de la Bastille, the site of an infamous prison stormed by a revolutionary mob on July 14, 1789, and then demolished.

“We’re all at the bottom of a deep hole being unable to play since Dec. 5,” said violinist Emilie Belaud.

But, she added, orchestra members are determined to hold firm. The Paris Opera has had to cancel all its scheduled ballets and operas since Dec. 5 — 63 performances in all.

“If the government persists in being stubborn and refusing to negotiate in good conditions, we’ll carry on,” Belaud vowed.

The crowd chanted for the abandonment of the retirement overhaul. They also cried, “We’re united! General strike!”

Macron wants to unify France’s 42 different pension plans into a single one, giving all workers the same general rights. [ . . . ]

Source: Sour notes for Macron from striking Paris Opera musicians

‘Everyone is very worried’: Paris shops hit by ongoing strike


Three weeks before Christmas, Paris’s landmark department stores are virtually empty of shoppers as a result of the ongoing transport strike. Shopkeepers are worried for their future if it continues.

December is the most important month for shopkeepers, but Paris shops had a distinct lack of customers for the first Saturday of the month.

Landmark department stores, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, had few customers on Saturday, December 7. Three Saturdays before Christmas, it was also day three of a transport strike protesting the government’s proposed pension reform.

This strike has paralysed much of Paris and has been termed ‘unlimited’, which means there is no set finish date. There are genuine fears that it could last at least another week; some are even predicting it might continue until Christmas.

There were some cars on Boulevard Haussmann and on other main streets, but the pavements were noticeably thin on pedestrians. There was a distinct absence of crowds in the traditional build-up to Christmas that many shops depend on. Few were stopping to admire the Christmas windows

‘We’re fearing for our survival’: Independent shops at risk

If the big department stores are worrying about their revenues, small independent shops have to worry about their actual survival.

“We’re fearing for our survival,” stated the union representing independent shopkeepers in a letter published in Le Parisien this week, imploring shoppers not to let the transport strike stand in their way and to shop in this month crucial to shopkeepers.

“For more than a year, there have been protests every Saturday by Yellow Vests, lawyers, police officers, nurses… and our customers have turned on their heels.”

“In Paris, Lille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Rouen, many of us saw our turnover drop. Some of us are drowning in bank charges, struggling to repay loans and have even closed down shops,” the union wrote.

Shops are the hearts of cities, they appealed, but customers are the heart of merchants. Without customers pushing through the door, they will have to shut and cities will die [ . . .  ]

Read more at FRANCE 24: ‘Everyone is very worried’: Paris shops hit by ongoing strike

As strikes and student protests mount, is France heading for a rerun of May 68? 

As demonstrations spread in France over the government’s university reforms and some students joined ranks with striking rail-workers, there is increased talk of whether France is heading for a repeat of ‘May 68’?

“May 68. They are commemorating, we are starting again”, reads a slogan recently tagged onto the statue at the iconic Place de la République square in central Paris, which is so often the hub where protesters and strikers gather.

The graffiti is not just wanton vandalism and could be a word of warning to the French government.

Nearly 50 years ago in May 1968, student protests over the education system flared up into nationwide confrontation and turned into one of the greatest upheaval in modern day France.

“Protesting and contesting are always a potential political option for youth people, and that’s a good thing for the vitality of our democracy,”

This week, student demonstrations over new tighter university admissions rules appeared to be headed in the same direction, as several hundred students in the universities of Lyon, Lille, Strasbourg and Bordeaux joined ranks with France’s railworkers as they staged a second day of strikes. [ . . . ]

More at: THE LOCAL As strikes and student protests mount, is France heading for a rerun of May 68? – The Local