In 2023, the city of Paris, known for its romance, fine wine, and iconic landmarks, faced an entirely different scene as transportation workers across the city took to the streets to protest. Strikes launched by several unions led to significant disruptions in train, air, and ferry services, impacting not only the citizens of Paris but also travelers from around the world.
The Cause of the Strikes
The root of the 2023 strikes lies in the implementation of Article 49.3 of the French Constitution by President Macron’s government, which bypasses a vote in the Assemblée Nationale to enact a bill. This controversial bill pushes back the retirement age from 62 to 64 for most workers and requires citizens to have worked for at least 43 years to access a full pension. This change outraged many French citizens, who are fiercely protective of their universal healthcare and generous pensions.
The strikes are a response to the French government’s implementation of Article 49.3 of the Constitution, which allowed it to pass a bill without a vote in the Assemblée Nationale. This bill pushed back the retirement age from 62 to 64 for most workers and required citizens to have worked for at least 43 years in order to access a full pension. This sparked outrage among French citizens, who are fiercely protective of their universal healthcare and generous pensions, and almost 70% of the population was reportedly against the reform. This reform is viewed as one of the most significant uprisings since the Yellow Vests Movement, which took place in 2018-2019
The Strikes and Their Impact
The strikes have affected various transportation sectors. National federations of port and dock workers called for strikes that affected ferry services, causing delays and cancellations, with around 900 passengers affected by the cancellations of Brittany Ferries services on 7 March.
Rail traffic was disrupted on all lines operated by SNCF, France’s national state-owned rail company. Specific train lines, including TGVs, Intercités, and TER, saw significant disruption, with services ranging from a fifth of the normal number to none at all on certain routes. Major routes were blocked by striking workers, with logistics and HGV drivers asked to stop work from the evening of 6 March, affecting traffic in regions such as Hauts-de-France and the outskirts of Paris.
Flight services were also notably affected. Eurocontrol reported that 10 million travelers were impacted by delays or cancellations between March 1 and April 9, decreasing aircraft punctuality from around 80% to 70% during strike days. Airlines such as Ryanair, Air France, and Easyjet faced the most significant delays and cancellations during this period.
Despite the chaos, the strikes had a limited impact on tourism. Visitor figures to France were up by 33% for 2023, with American visitors to Paris increasing by 33% compared to 2022 figures. Despite concerns over potential harm to tourism and France’s image, there was little evidence that the strikes affected France’s economy overall.
However, the individual traveler was the most affected by the strikes. Data from the period between March 1 and April 9 showed that 10 million passengers were impacted by delays or cancellations, amounting to 64,000 passengers each day just in France. It’s not just an issue for flights taking off and landing in France, as many flights pass through French airspace. On any given day, up to 3,300 flights take off and land in French airports but another 3,700 pass across French airspace, and 16% of these have been affected by air traffic controller strikes.
The strikes have highlighted the deep-seated issues within the French labor and pension system. Despite the inconvenience caused to millions, the majority of the French population remains against the pension reform. The strikes continue to be seen as a reaction against what is perceived as a wildly undemocratic process of enacting such a reform.
Impact on Transportation
The strikes severely disrupted transportation in Paris and throughout France:
- The French national rail company, SNCF Voyageurs, saw disruptions on all its lines on 7 March. The strike action was described as “rolling,” with participants deciding each evening whether they would continue the walkouts locally.
- Certain train lines were significantly affected, with drastic reductions in the number of trains running. Other lines, such as the Paris Metro, were able to maintain normal service, albeit only during peak times.
- Several major routes in France were blocked by striking workers. This included logistics and HGV drivers, who were called to stop work from Sunday night at 10 pm, with action continuing into 6 and 7 March.
- The Eurostar service was disrupted, and some services were closed for sale until the full effects were known. Some services from London to other European cities were also cut.
- National federations of port and dock workers also called for strikes in France, affecting ferry services. Some ferry services were cancelled, impacting around 900 passengers.
Economic and Touristic Impact
Despite fears that the strikes might harm tourism and tarnish France’s image, early evidence suggests that long-haul business was booming for May and June, and France saw a 33% increase in visitor figures in 2023 compared to 2022. Travel app Hopper reported that airfare to Europe was already the highest it has been in the past 5 years, suggesting that the strikes have not deterred tourists from visiting.