A Week Asleep

photo: cafe au depart saint lazare

No 'departs,' because of the train strike on
Saturday's Fête du Travail.

Paris Area Hit By SNCF Strike

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 3. May 1999:- After Saturday's Fête du Travail (see below), this morning's commuters are being treated to an expanded rail strike in the Paris region. Radio reports say less than half the scheduled trains are running.

In addition to the inconvenience to today's travellers, this strike against the SNCF is worth mentioning because it may be the last chance for rail workers to have their say about coming changes - which could mean the strikes could continue - perhaps until summer.

Apparently the SNCF management realizes this, because it has given radio reporters more details about how it runs its daily operations - possibly in the hopes that frustrated users will not vent their anger in the 'wrong' place.

Every day, a certain number of trains are scheduled, and each has a number. For example, train 3456 is supposed to leave the Gare Saint-Lazare at 08:12 to go to Versailles. The train is sitting at the platform ready to go, but it isn't until 08:11 that the SNCF learns that it has no driver - which is a bit late to warn travellers that the train will not run.

Usually, the half-dozen unions involved work out in advance which trains will actually make their trips and they inform the management, and if there is time, this emergency schedule posted.

But during the course of a day, some trains may be dropped and others added. The result is that the management doesn't really know if a train will make its journey until it leaves the station. Its passengers know just as little too.

Commuter traffic in the Paris region is very complex. It involves moving millions of people in and out of the capital each day. The further away from downtown users live, the fewer options they have for alternate routes or other means of transport. Some routinely have three or four-hour round trips to complete, and cutting a third or two-thirds of scheduled trains can mean great increases in commuting time - as well as much time lost from work.

For today, the Paris station supposed to be least affected is Montparnasse. At the moment, the strikes are concentrated in the Paris region, the west and the north. Generally, TGV trains are least affected and the London/Brussels-Paris 'Eurostar' trains usually continue to run full schedules.

The SNCF also mentioned that the strikes affect freight trains. These do not, as a rule, use commuter tracks, but they are part of a whole network - and often carry perishable goods - so they do add to the general foulup.

If you happen to get caught up in this, there are a couple of things to remember. The strikes are not total; some trains will be running. Neither the SNCF nor local passengers will know in advance - for certain - which trains will run. For the duration of the strikes, road traffic around Paris will be an absolute mess.

For the moment, Paris' métro, which is operated by the RATP, is not affected - which means getting around Paris via underground routes will not be difficult.

Siesta Ends With the 'Fête du Travail'

Paris:- Saturday, 1. May 1999:- My International Labor Day starts off the with SNCF train strike before I get anywhere. How, I wonder, can anybody get to Paris to march in the 'Labor Day' parades if the trains are not operating?

My local station-master, who is not on strike - who is not even having the day off for the 'Fête du Travail' - just gets off the phone when I arrive at the station. As I am looking at the list of trains scheduled to run, he says it's all been changed and deletes part of the list. The part he deletes are the trains 'not running.'

He says one train is making round-trips from here to Saint-Lazare and back. The station-master says there may be more trains later in the day. I decide not to buy a ticket; in solidarity with both the strike and 'Labor Day.'

It is also a counter-forecast day; not cloudy and overcast as predicted at all and it is even warm. The skyphoto: round building boul haussmann is blue. This is my fifth 'Labor Day' and the first one like this since my first one in 1995, which was muggy, and ended in murder.

As it is a rare train, it stops at every station. I take the time to read yesterday's Libération; about the Jacques and Lionel popularity show and about French hunters being told about the constitutional reality of private property by the International Court.

Fairly typical Haussmannian splendor beside the May Day parade route.

Unlike Le Parisien, the various lead items often occupy two pages, and are meaty reading. Reading Libération does not leave one with a lot of left-over questions. Arrival at Saint-Lazare coincides with completing the dreary story told by refugees who have managed to arrive in China from North Korea.

With the way the week worked out I have to get the standard 'Café'- 'Bistro'-'Scene' photos plus a couple of poster shots, so I am not even certain I will have shots to spare for the combo CGT-CFDT parade which is supposed to start at Place de la République and come across the Grands Boulevards, to the place in from of the Saint-Augustine church, just to the west of Saint-Lazare.

I see smoke up that way and head towards it. Some guys with a CGT van are setting up a sausage grille and they verify to all who arrive, that this is the destination of the 'Labor Day' parade. Their estimation of the time of the parade's arrival varies between one and two hours.

If two hours, I'm not about to wait because it is like a Sunday in August; so I head east on the Boulevard Haussmann. Very few cafés are open, but by the level of Printemps there are more people about and I hear parade noise by the time I arrive in front of Galeries Lafayette. What luck!

The parade is marking time where the Boulevard des Italiens splits off from Haussmann. The situation is, where I'm ready, the parade will pass right in front of the Banque Nationale de Paris, in somber capitalist shadow, and will get some light from the cross-streets Rue Le Peletier and Rue Laffitte.

In France, there is some bitterness at what is thought to be a bogeyman called 'mondialisation,' and although the BNP's takeover bid for Paribas and the Soc-Gen banks is a pure Franco-French bid for 'world'-bank size, it is being bitterly opposed by everyone except the BNP and the Finance Ministry.

Amazingly, I actually get my shot of red flags passing in front of the BNP's HQ. Also amazingly, for the first time in a donkey's age, since 1983 to be exact, the Communist-oriented CGT labor union is marching together with the Socialist-orientated CFDT, with bothphoto: may day parade flags their leaders in the front line: Madame Nicole Notat for the CFDT and Monsieur Bernard Thibault and his Beatle haircut, for the CGT.

Different weather or different times? A relaxed parade today on the Grands Boulevards.

Perhaps it is the nice day, but it is all very laid-back and I note none of the tension of past years. There seem to be no gorillas to stop me walking right into the parade, and its marshals stop its advance at cross-streets to let trapped motorists pass. No strong-arm stuff today.

Not here on Haussmann at least. Earlier in the day, Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National did its usual thing of paying homage to the statue of Jeanne d'Arc and holding its usual speeches with their usual texts in front of the Opéra.

The break-away Front National faction led by former number two, Bruno Mégret, followed three hours afterwards - with the ritual at the statue, and nearly identical speeches at a stand set up at Palais Royal - which had been passed earlier by Le Pen's followers.

The FN's squad of official tough guys has been decimated lately by court actions and defections, so today they apparently protected both factions as a unit, which was possible because they were timed not to meet.

In another part of town, up at the Père-Lachaise cemetery, the mainly civil-servant FO laid its traditional wreath at the wall of the Communards executed during the Paris Commune. In addition, in solidarity with the retired, their main demo was at the Bastille.

Groups mainly concerned with unemployment tacked themselves onto the tail of the CGT-CFDT parade, which was also joined by the small but long-lived Trotskists, who remain resolutely hard-line.

Perhaps oddest of all, another grouping of unemployed were to meet out at Vincennes for a 'Fête du Travail - Faites des Emplois,' which was sponsored by the Vivendi Foundation - whose parent company is nearly tied for world first place with Suez-Lyonnais des Eaux in the water and cable-TV businesses.

I am very happy with all of this. Before leaving Saint-Lazare I noted the times of returning trains, and this 'Fête du Travail' parade has come along at exactly the right time for me to wrap up my work today and get back without having to hang around. The advertised 16:17 train leaves the station with me on it.

Later, TV-news gives the scores. For the CGT-CFDT - 30,000 according to organizers; 13,000 accordingphoto: may day parade in front of bnp to the police. The FO also claimed 30,000, but the police gave them only 10,000. No scores were given for the two Front National groups, but they got airtime anyway.

Also getting their moment of fame on TV, were what appeared to be several thousands of travelers at various SNCF train stations around Paris; hooting and booing today's rail strike.

The parade ignores the BNP's headquarters as it passes with its traditional red flags.

This I did not note at Saint-Lazare, mainly because it is primarily a commuter station - although the one with one of the largest traffic counts. However I did notice a SNCF poster claiming something like a 96 percent satisfaction rate with its Poissy line - and this is one line that is 'on strike' about once a week.

Since my station-master was neither 'on strike' nor participating in the 'Fête du Travail' today, I guess my line would have a 105 percent approval rating. As the homeward-bound train stops at every station, I read Libération's account of putting TV on the Web.

All I have to put on, is today's 'Fête du Travail.' No video, no audio; just some simple words and photos. Maybe Paribas or the Viviendi water company will let me put on TV next year.

This Was Metropole One Year Ago:

count down Eiffel TowerIssue 3.18 - 4. May 1998 - This issue featured - Café Metropole - 'Where Were You in May of 1968?' and the 'Au Bistro' column had 'Bonjour 'Euro!' The issue had four features: 'Foire de Paris - The Exotic and the Unusual,' 'May Day '98 at République,' 'Eyewitness to Paris in May '68,' by Jim Auman and '30 Years Later - A Chronology of 'May '68.'' There were four 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon of the Week was captioned, 'Only One Euro.' And there were more spelling mistakes than usual, due to it being a larger issue than usual.

The Tour Eiffel Countdown to 31. December 1999:

Only 243 more slightly warmer but still unsettled spring days to go.

Regards, Ric
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contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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