black thursday

Yesterday was Jeudi noir, or Black Thursday, where pretty much everyone who works in the public sector, and many others, took to the streets across France.

It was a general strike, not just for one issue in particular, and reflected the frustration that people are feeling about their country and their President, Mr. Sarkozy, who is proposing (and implementing) the dismantling of a lot of programs that are a part of French society. True, there are certainly a few things around here that could be tightened up a bit. And cutting teachers in schools and reducing health benefits you may or may not agree with (I don’t), but I give the French credit for taking to the streets when they feel their rights are abridged.

I was talking to a doctor a while back about the worrisome deficit in the health insurance system. “So what?” he said, “There are deficits everywhere in government.” Which is pretty much true no matter where you live. And I think that it’s a nice ideal to have a society where people are kept healthy, which benefits everyone, something both economists and health professionals agree on. After all, America is facing its largest deficit in history, so I kept my mouth shut.

(Contrary to popular belief, the health care in France is not “free.” A percentage is deducted from your income, similar to the way social security is deducted from income in America.)

A few people wrote to me yesterday—“Be careful, David!”—when they heard about the strikes and saw pictures on the news. But there wasn’t any reason to be scared. There wasn’t any violence directed at me or each other; they were targeting the government. I think the President, though, stayed inside. Which was probably wise of him.

While it’s easy to make fun at people who go en grêve at the drop of a hat, it’s also reassuring that they care enough about things like their educational system, job benefits, and health care, and are pro-active in fighting to see that the government listens to their concerns. I don’t always agree with the strikers, but I give them credit for trying. And sure, it’s not convenient when the métro and post office closes for the day. But it’s also inconvenient to get sicker, or die, when your health insurance company denies your claim.

So today, everything’s back to normal. The streets are clean, the métro is running, and my yoga classes are back on schedule. (I got an e-mail that there were no classes yesterday. I’m not sure if the instructors were on strike, but anyone that’s in charge of getting me to exercise deserves a raise.) So now all is back in place, and there wasn’t any cause for alarm. It’s kind of hard to blame them.

After all, they were just looking for a little bit of espoir of their own.

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  • January 30, 2009 11:22am

    I completely respect how France strikes. I think the US could take a few pointers from them and how they converse with their government when something they don’t like is going on. It may be inconvenient sometimes, but everything is usually up and running again in a few days at the most.

  • Berit
    January 30, 2009 12:02pm

    I totally agree on that one, and so could the Germans. I do find it a bit frustrating then and when, that everyone here just keeps moaning and moaning, but when it comes to actually doing something against it, they can’t be bothered. ugh. So vive la France and keep up the strikes ;)

  • January 30, 2009 12:13pm

    Yes, you are right, there is something a little inspiring about it. I always heard stories from my parents about vietnam protests when they were grad students in berkeley, and when I compared their experience to my various stints at institutions of higher learning, where I generally was surrounded by die-hard capitalists, I always felt a little wistful. Nice to see the 60s spirit of public involvement is alive somewhere.

  • January 30, 2009 1:00pm

    Well gosh, it sure beats the complacent apathy that has plagued the U.S. for the last few decades. We just shrug and watch idly, as our rights are compromised and eroded, and accept the new public demonstration zones as a tidy way of dealing with the “loonies.”

    I admire anyone who is passionate enough to stand up for their rights and beliefs. I wish U.S. citizens remembered that our government is supposed to be “by and for the people.”

    I have to say, being in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots was one of the first times I felt the U.S. had a pulse (I was only a babe during the Summer of Love, etc.). And, while I don’t think rioting and looting was the right thing to do, by any means (it wasn’t!), I was actually proud to see united outrage across races and classes put to public demonstration. For a few short days the few did not control the masses. It was refreshing. Exhilarating, even. Perhaps I was the only one who felt that way, but after a decade of mind-numbing apathy driven by Reagan/Bush policies, I found it to be a good sign.

    Although, after this last Hollywood writer’s strike, I doubt anyone I know will be striking for a while. Everyone in my industry is still paying the price for that strike – especially we writers and independent producers, who will be paying for it in reduced rates for some time. And also TV viewers, who get to see their new favorite shows canceled – one after the other – with no story closure, or even a chance to campaign for the show’s longevity. Not that the cause wasn’t worth while… But, it came with heavy penalties, that’s for sure.

    Great photo, David. I love it!


    ~ Paula

  • Mickael
    January 30, 2009 2:28pm

    “After all, they were just looking for a little bit of espoir of their own”
    You’re totally true !
    French people like events like that to “meet themselves”, remember they are all citizen of the same country, and that in democracy, pepole have power :)

  • January 30, 2009 3:19pm

    “And sure, it’s not convenient when the métro and post office closes for the day. But it’s also inconvenient to get sicker, or die, when your health insurance company denies your claim.”


  • Sarah
    January 30, 2009 4:56pm

    The healthcare system in France is not perfect, but it’s definitely worth fighting for! I hope the strike helps.

    A healthy, health proactive and preventative society saves billions. It also keeps other systems in check like business and education. Sickness, disease, and apathy spread like wildfire. Good health in one area promotes and maintains it in others. Hence the enormous sickness in America, which we help spread to the whole world. We have been irresponsible and greedy and it lasted so long it has now spread to everyone. We’re in big trouble in the US. We must to better for ourselves and the world.

    Stay healthy David and thanks for the blog. May I ask what healthcare is like for you as a resident expat in Paris? Just curious. I hope it’s good, and easier to get than customer service at a bank or fixing your oven ;-)

  • Anna
    January 30, 2009 6:43pm

    David, that’s a gorgeous picture! Thanks for that!

  • January 31, 2009 1:24am

    Although it is inconvenient to not have the metro running etc, I do agree with you and appreciate those that believe enough to strike and try to make a difference. (I remember last year when there was no metro for 2 weeks! I was lucky to live w/in walking distance to school …)

    And even though technically the healthcare in France is not free, it’s still a better system than in the US. I never had to worry while I was in France – 22 Euro for an appt and 5 Euro for meds is no big deal. I don’t have insurance in the US and it’s quite frightening. I paid a bit of taxes in France, and a shitload in the US. Yet I could never touch any of the money I gave to the US govt for social security, etc.

    Anyway, nothing is perfect in any country – I just wish the US would pick up on a few things…

  • oakjoan
    January 31, 2009 3:07am

    Some of my fondest memories of France are from the march we encountered in Marseilles many years ago. It was a demo by nurses and hospital workers for better conditions and part of it was at night. Thousands of people marching through the streets singing. Here in the U.S. we’re led to believe that those Europeans, and especially THOSE CRAZY FRENCH PEOPLE spend all of their time causing trouble by marching around and striking. Sarkozy is painted as a man who has common sense and is just trying to make the French “come to their senses” and realize that their safety net should be removed.

    We complain but little is done to fix our broken health care system, etc. France is years ahead of us in this area.

    Formez vos bataillons!!

  • January 31, 2009 3:28am

    Great Photo David.

    How brave of the French to demonstrate their feelings and ask for care and reform on the thinking of most importantly health care!

    Here in Spain we have excellent medical attention for everyone!

    Thanks for maintaining your blog, it’s such a treat to find your latest news and views.

  • January 31, 2009 5:09am

    Sarah: I had a policy that covered me abroad for a while, the premium cost less than $1000/year. Astonished, I couldn’t believe it, and the American company that issued it said that it was because health care is so much cheaper in France. I only had to use it once, when I had surgery, but they covered everything they said they would. I’m now part of the French health care system and pay into it. Luckily, I’m pretty healthy and hopefully I won’t need to use it much.

  • January 31, 2009 8:59am

    I am currently living in France, studying at a university for 6 months. I am completely in love with France: the culture, the language, the history, the art, the music, the cuisine…but most of all I love the people here. They are so alive and uninhibited. I don’t want to bash the US. It is, after all, my home country. But seeing the workers take to the streets yesterday was like stepping into the sunshine after weeks of rain.

  • January 31, 2009 10:25am

    Gorgeous photo… really stunning.

    The one time I had the misfortune to need a doctor in Burgundy, I was blown away with how easy and affordable an experience it was. There was no waiting three weeks for an appointment; one just turned up in the doctor’s waiting room and… waited. No receptionist; the people waiting kept track of who was next among themselves. When the previous patient was finished, the doctor would come out and escort the next one in. We sat at his desk and he talked to me (patiently dealing with my minimal french) about what was wrong, then asked me to walk across the room and put on a gown. The exam took a few minutes, he handed me a receipt and a long prescription, and charged me something like $17. When I went to the pharmacy, they gave me a shopping bag full of medicines; I blanched when I saw the size of the bag, but it cost me under $10. I didn’t even bother filing for reimbursement when I got back home. It’s been probably 10 years since this happened, but I still remember it vividly. Something so amazing is definitely worth fighting for.

  • January 31, 2009 12:46pm

    My dad was there in May ’68 and arrested outside the US embassy in London in October the same year. This all looks a bit mild compared with the stories he’s told me about those days.

  • Steve
    January 31, 2009 1:18pm

    While I have been inconvenienced by French strikers, and while I may think that some specific grievances can be ridiculous, I have to hand it to a society that still feels it can exercise its power of protest. Over here, in the midst of hundreds of thousands of layoffs fueled by governmental inaction and the idiocy of many so-called captains of industry, the average worker seems resigned to a silent and pathetic acceptance of fate.

  • January 31, 2009 3:37pm

    Seriously, best picture of the day.

  • January 31, 2009 8:49pm

    What a coincidence! My university just ended their strike!