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.