«I’ve never seen this,» says an astonished Canadian. In Paris, the most visited city in the world, tourists these days must avoid the garbage piled up in the city’s iconic places on account of a strike by garbage collectors against the unpopular pension reform of the government of President Emmanuel Macron.
Yesterday marked the seventh consecutive day of a strike by Parisian waste collectors against Pres. Macron’s pension reforms. More than 5,400 metric tons of garbage have accumulated on the streets of Paris. La Vie en rose!pic.twitter.com/WkRJgoqpW6
—Steve Hanke (@steve_hanke) March 13, 2023
On the banks of the Seine River, for example, debris obstructs view of Notre Dame. To contemplate the famous cathedral built between the 12th and 14th centuries in the heart of the capital and damaged by a fire in 2019, one must abstract.
Tourists who want to see the Eiffel Tower from the impressive Trocadero esplanade, but when they get out of the metro, First they must go through a wall of plastic bags. In the center, the other romantic alleys are strewn with boxes and cardboard, sometimes with spoiled food.
And it is that more than 7,000 tons of garbage accumulate today on the sidewalks of the capital, and although unemployment only affects half of its twenty districts, it has become a real problem in the affected areas, which manifests itself, for example, in the appearance of rats.
(Read also: France: the reasons for the unions’ protest against Macron’s pension reform)
The garbage collectors’ strike also affects several large cities (Nantes, Rennes and Nice) and medium-sized ones (Montpellier, Le Havre, Saint-Brieuc and Vallauris), but it is in Paris where it has taken more prominence.
«I’ve never seen this in Canada,» says Omera, a Canadian tourist just after taking a photo of the rubbish piled up in Saint Michel, in the Latin Quarter. «This will make the tourists flee!» she predicts.
Martín Ruiz, an 18-year-old American, laments the smell: «It’s disgusting.» «The smell is unpleasant to be able to eat food or walk around the city,» says Ángeles Mosqueda, a Mexican tourist in front of the Paris Opera.
(Also: France: unions reproach Macron for his deafness in rejecting the pension reform)
The City of Light, which received some 34.5 million tourists in 2022 according to the authorities, registers significant social discontent against a reform promoted by the liberal president Emmanuel Macron, which is opposed by two out of three French people.
To force the government to back down, the unions intensified their actions last week with extendable strikes in key sectors such as energy and transport, after having organized massive demonstrations in January and February.
What collectors say
In Paris, municipal garbage collection employees collected their strike more than a week ago, that affects half of the capital.
One of them, Nabil Latreche, 44, denounces the fact of having to work longer, despite having a «painful» job.
«We work rain, snow or wind (…) When we are behind the truck, we breathe volatile things. We have many occupational diseases,» he says.
When I retire, «I know I will live poor» with a pension of 1,200 euros ($1,280) at most, laments Murielle Gaeremynck, a 56-year-old woman who has been a garbage collector for two decades.
(Keep reading: They denounce that French companies discriminate against the elderly)
His colleagues from private companies, which operate in the rest of the capital, are facing the blockade of the incinerator plants.
On vacation in Paris, thousands of tourists find themselves immersed in the French social conflict. «The strike will not change anything. If you have to retire later, then do it,» says the American Mark.
The British Olivia Stevenson, for her part, instead supports strikes «anywhere», whether in France or the recent ones in her country. Garbage in Paris «spoils sight and smell», but «retirement and salary are important to many people», Explain
«Obviously, it’s not the best for foreign tourists,» acknowledges Jean-François Rial, the president of the Paris Convention and Tourism Office, but «it won’t damage the image» of the city.
«Even two weeks without garbage collection have not harmed Naples,» says the man, for whom the social conflict will not take its toll «on the tourist frequentation of this wonderful city.»
The future of reform
As in Paris, other French cities are affected by the stoppage in the collection of rubbish, but the mobilizations also cover other sectors since last Wednesday.
In transport, this weekend the strikes affected both air transport and the railways, whose service will have disturbances for the next few days.
In the energy area, the blockades at various refineries in the country are also going to be prolonged, although until now they have not caused a fuel supply crisis like the one found at the end of 2022 due to workers’ economic claims.
The next big day of protests -which will be the eighth since the Government revealed the details of its project to change access to retirement last January- It is called by all the unions for this Wednesday.
This day marks the beginning of the final stretch of the parliamentary process of the pension reform, after the Senate, where the right has the majority, changed the proposal over the weekend.
(You can read: France retirement: at 64 years and other points of the pension reform)
On Wednesday, a mixed joint commission made up of seven senators and seven deputies must meet to agree on a common text, which takes into account the latest modifications and which must then be validated again by both chambers.
Unlike in the Senate, in the National Assembly the sum of the necessary support to approve the final text is highly anticipated.
The main axis of the project promoted by Macron is delay the minimum retirement age by two years, from the current 62 years to 64.
*With information from AFP and EFE