Dans la salle d’accouchement
I had a baby on Tuesday, a strange day to give birth in Paris. It was the 13th day of a massive strike against pension reforms, and unions had called for a big day of protest.
We took an Uber to the hospital on Monday evening. Across the city, entrances to the Périphérique were at a standstill. Our driver said he wouldn’t be working the next day. ‘There’s no point. Paris is going to be blocked, with protesters going from République to Nation.’
The proposed reforms will consolidate 42 separate ‘special’ pension regimes into a universal points system that will apply to all workers. Opponents say it will mean less money for everybody, and a higher retirement age that doesn’t take into account difficult working conditions. ‘I’ve seen older people crying over this,’ our driver said. ‘My neighbour was crying. I’m not going to wait for Monsieur Macron to give me a thousand euros for my pension. I’m thinking about people who work hard, people who work in construction for instance. An older retirement age doesn’t work for them. It’s not fair. Politicians have no idea.’
At the hospital, I asked the nurse who took me to my room if staff were striking. ‘Striking? We can’t. This is a hospital. We support strikers but we can’t strike. If we do it’s just by putting a sticker on our uniform that says “on strike”. All the others are striking for us.’
Last Friday morning I was on the Métro line 1, which still works because it’s driverless. We were informed that the service on the RER A had been interrupted because of an incident involving a passenger. In our overcrowded carriage, there was pushing and shoving, and insults were exchanged. The woman sitting in front of me said that the previous day she had seen a woman in her fifties hitting another woman, until an RATP employee held her back. Trying to take the RER in the evenings to go home was the worst, she said. She’d come to dread that journey. ‘It’s hell,’ she said, ‘but I’m supporting the strike.’
On Tuesday morning, as a team prepared me for my planned C-section, a nurse asked what I thought of nurses’ working conditions. At the weekend, hundreds of hospital doctors threatened to resign in protest at the lack of beds, caused by a severe shortage of nurses.
Jean-Paul Delevoye, the high commissioner for pensions reforms, resigned on Monday, after it was revealed that he had failed to disclose a dozen extracurricular activities on his declaration of interests form. On Monday evening, employees at the electricity grid operator cut supplies to tens of thousands of homes, mostly in the south-west. On Tuesday, according to the Interior Ministry, 615,000 people took to the streets across France. The CGT union puts the figure at 1.8 million.
Discussions between the government and the unions resumed yesterday. The government hopes that the movement will lose support if the strike goes on till Christmas. The unions say it will be the government’s fault if the strike continues. ‘Pensions will be the indicator of our capacity to reform,’ said Aurore Bergé, an MP for Macron’s party La République en Marche. ‘We will also be assessed on our ability to hold our ground on this topic.’
‘We’d like to strike,’ a nurse said to me last night. ‘But who would look after your daughter?’