What the poubelle? Paris protests explained

For the past three weeks, the streets of Paris were buried in trash—ten-thousand tons of it, to be exact.

Some influencers have been poking fun at the situation and showing their followers “a day in the life” of being in one of the most beautiful European cities while walking by towering piles of trash.

But the reality is that this is a serious issue

What’s the deal with the garbage all over Paris?

Sanitation workers across Paris—as well as an estimated 800,000 citizens throughout the country—are protesting President Macron’s executive decision to reform pensions and raise the retirement age.

In mid-March, President Emmanuel Macron pushed through legislation to increase France’s age of retirement, therefore the access to pensions, by two years from age 62 to age 64 by 2030.

President Macron has advocated for pension reform and raising the age of retirement during both of his presidential campaigns, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this happened. However, since President Macron forced the legislation through a no-confidence vote, this has outraged French citizens because it’s as if President Macron skipped over the democratic process.

The French are passionate about democracy—and some would argue that France is birthplace of democracy as we know it today.

So naturally, the on-brand response from the French was to protest.

In addition to the mountains of trash around the city, some protests have unfortunately escalated to violence and resulted in injuring people and causing property damage.

But why, though?

It’s true that France’s new age of retirement remains below the EU average of 65 years old.

However, if you think about it, someone who has worked in a physically demanding career in certain sectors—such as sanitation and construction—are more likely to want to retire earlier.

Politicians and professionals who have less physically taxing jobs—and probably higher earning jobs—are less likely to have empathy and basic understanding as to why working class employees are protesting.

One group of workers is more likely to view working an additional two years with indifference.

The other group of workers is more likely to view working an additional two years with decisive outrage.

Haven’t the French protested before?

Yes, and it certainly won’t be the last time—the French have a history of exercising their right to assembly and protest when they’re displeased with the government.

Remember the yellow jacket (gilets jaunes) protests? The French were initially protesting a fuel tax and then it spiraled into something larger:

A grassroots citizens’ protest movement began in early November [2018] against a planned rise in the tax on diesel and petrol, which Emmanuel Macron insisted would aid the country’s transition to green energy. A poll at the time found that the price of fuel had become France’s biggest talking point.

The movement was named “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) because protesters wear the fluorescent yellow high-vis jackets that all motorists must by law carry in their cars. But what began as a fuel tax protest has now morphed into a wider anti-government movement. Unlike previous French protest movements, it sprang up online through petitions and was organized by ordinary working people posting videos on social media, without a set leader, trade union, or political party behind it.

– Who are the gilets jaunes and what do they want?, The guardian

They would have probably continued and intensified if it wasn’t for the pandemic.

So what happens now?

According to Le Monde, rubbish removal will resume on Wednesday, March 29th:

Paris trash collectors are this week to suspend a three-week strike that has seen thousands of tonnes of garbage accumulate in the French capital, a union said on Tuesday, March 28. The walkout would be suspended from Wednesday to allow coordination with workers “so we can go on strike again even more strongly” as fewer workers were now striking, the CGT union said.

– Paris garbage collectors announce end of strike on Wednesday, LE MONDE

The protests may be paused, but this is far from over—Reuters reports that the next organized protests will occur on April 6th.

Honestly, it wouldn’t be surprising if protestors leverage their demands ahead of the 2024 summer Olympics being hosted in Paris.

Posted by

A Francophile based in coastal New England

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