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About SNCF and bike holidays

by srutis Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 09:21:17 AM EST

A timely diary as the SNCF is on strike again today. See my explanations as a comment below. --Jérôme

I have bad experiences with SNCF, which date back to a bike trip I took together with a friend of mine, when both of us just turned eighteen. We biked from Geneva to Marseille and wanted to continue by train to Toulouse. First, it turned out that the one and only connection which enables us to do that would depart around 5am!


So we managed to catch this train. We were met with a generally unhelpful staff who would rather sit around and chat than answer our questions or help us, as we and fellow travellers struggled with our bikes.

Today's announcement of yet another strike (which is the 5th or 6th of this year, depending on the source) brought back this memory of mine.

:: ::

Starting today, between one third to two third of the scheduled trains will not run. According to the article, the given reason is the union's fear of a privatization of SNCF. Mr de Villepin, premier minister of France, assured in an interview last sunday that "if it is needed, we will take the initiative to show that the risk of privatization of SNCF is absurd". To this, secretary general of the biggest implicated union, CGT-Cheminots, replied that "there needs to be some substance on the table". He's convinced that only a strike will allow him to be heard.

I must admit that I am appalled by all the strikes in the railway sector. Being Swiss, each time there's a strike in France or Italy (or even the Netherlands), we'll hear from the delays, because of the international trains ending here. Don't understand me wrong, I think the right to strike is a very essential tool for unions to assure that the bosses don't get too rich.

But here, the boss is the government, and the clients are all the millions of passengers who can't count on a reliable train system. Do the clients get what they pay for in the case of SNCF? I ask this question not to advocate privatization (which I don't), but I think a little bit less arrogance of some of the unions would do.

I actually wanted to compare some numbers, but they have been very hard to come by. I could not find any data on punctuality; I gave up looking for any financial data because I'm not versed enough to interpret them anyway.

I found an interesting figure in the number of employees required to move a passenger for a kilometer. SNCF has 238.000 employees which allow for 74.35 billion passenger-kilometers (PK), thus 3200 employees for a billion PK. The german railway company DB gets about the same value, but moves about double the ton kilometers of freight! The Swiss SBB, as a reference value, needs only about 2200 employees (The data is from the respective company's websites).

Now, as a fan and daily user of public transport, I hope this strike will be over soon, and the people of SNCF can go back to work and make a reasonable good railway system even better!

Display:
I'm sad you met with such idiotic staff. A couple of points.

  1. I think comparing the Swiss and German, French railways is comparing apples to oranges. Switzerland's is a small network with large transit traffic, which was maintained in good shape for a long time now. Delays are naturally bigger on bigger networks. (I can dig you up some punctuality figures, separately for train types.)

  2. Both in Germany and France, railways were underfunded for decades, while money was poured into highways. In both countries, spending on high-speed lines was used as excuse for not spending on the existing network (which is one reason for delays). Again, in stark contrast to Switzerland, where your direct democracy defended public transport even against your government (I consider the recent voting-down of both Avanti-Vorschlag and Avanti-'Gegenvorschlag' a great feat).

  3. Managers like to tout productivity as a self-explanatory way to measure the well-being of a company, but (as often dealt with at ET) reality is more complex. The German Railways (led by managers taken from outside the railway world for some years now) in particular made the (only half-learnt) experience that increasing productivity by laying off people (mostly by sending them into early retiremement) will disrupt traffic, alienate passengers who have to battle with malfunctioning automats at abadoned station buildings, and cause maintenance problems (as just the early-retired old-timers have the most experience) - ultimately causing much more damage in money terms too.

  4. Privatisation is actually where currently processed EU legislation is heading. Thus the protests are very much timely. Also because of the right-wing government's limited willingness to spend on infrastructure investments (okay, that improved in the last few years).

  5. I can give you SNCF's and DB's financial data if you wish (I'd prefer you specify which parts). I note that while SBB turned profitable a few years ago, SNCF also did last year, and DB too - tough that may only be because of investment cuts (DB) and cost-cutting measures that may prove problematic (SNCF).


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Nov 21st, 2005 at 06:39:56 PM EST
Forgot:

3b) I'm less informed about the SNCF's management and their political appointment policy, but with DB (and a lot of other national railways), the leadership problem is connected to privatisation in a perfidious way: successive governments have had privatisation (or to express it differently: getting rid of responsibilities) in eyesight, and appointed people who they thought will prepare the railways for that, even against resistance from below. Tough as far as I could see, all of them emancipated themselves somewhat once in office, fact remains that a significant part of the mismanagement brought up as argument for 'state ineffiency' and need for privatisation was actually caused by them.

Also forgot: a link to my diary on rail transport policy in the EU, where I praise Switzerland as a model.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Nov 21st, 2005 at 06:48:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Has there ever been a reasonable argument in favor of privatizing railroads? The disaster in the UK and US experience have, as far as I know, not a single counter-balancing success story.
by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 10:39:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sweden is another case - less disastrous, but in my opinion not positive either. Japan is yet another - this on the other hand seems a borderline success, tough seen from afar; I hope tuasfait will find this thread and have comments on it.

Sometimes Switzerland is brought up as good example, but I argued in my older diary I linked to that it looks like that only superficially (those privates don't compete, most of them are majority public owned, and there was recently a consolidation process).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 11:19:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Privatisation is actually where currently processed EU legislation is heading.
Can you elaborate what you mean by "currently processed"?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 10:43:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Two months ago, the EP approved the Third Railway Package, strengthening it by calling for even domestic passenger services competition by 2012 (and international passenger services competition by 2008). It currently rests with the Council, I believe - the transport ministers already debated it, without too loud opposition. Bliar wanted to push it through during his presidency. Then it would be the national governments' turn to ratify it.

(I don't know about elsewhere, but in Hungary, the package is treated as a done deal, something to prepare for.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 11:14:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How is "passenger services competition" synonimous with "privatization"? What are the actual requirements?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 11:17:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you consider the outright sell-of of the entire SNCF as privatisation, then it isn't. If you consider the introducion of privately-operated rail traffic as privatisation, then it is. But this is only the explicit part.

The concept is to have a situation as we now have with roads: let there be a separate, national infrastructure owner, which is mandated to allot slots for trains without prejudice to competing transport companies. This in effect demands the splitting of national companies (which to some degree, in form of reorganisation, has already been executed), and the transport company successor(s) of the national railways will have to be treated as just one competitor on lines open to competition. (See my older diary why I think this is bad policy.) There is no such requirement, but the idea is that (a) the transport company successor will become a for-profit company that can be sold off, (b) public transport will become subsidized transports that can be done by any competitor on the market.

So even without outright requirement, opening up domestic competition can lead to privatisation.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 11:30:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no problems with that if the actual infrastructure remains public, and if the state is allowed to run or subsidize services to remote/low traffic destinations.

In your diary you mention unifying technical standards. Who is going to pay for changing the gauge of the Spanish network? You may know about a Spanish train that can actually change gauge without substantial delays (developed in Spain because of the necessity of crossing the border with France).

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 11:38:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(TALGO trains, in Spanish)

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 11:47:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the origins of this technology were for trains to France, but this fast automatic one was developed for domestic high-speed trains.

Other readers might not know, so some further background: Spain has a broad-gauge network, but when it built its first high-speed line (opened 1992), in view of later linkup with the Trans-European network (which won't happen till 2009 at the earliest), it was built in normal gauge. But there is an even grander and bolder plan, considered earlier already but more seriously now under PM Zapatero, is to convert the entire network to normal gauge in two-three decades. In the meantime, however, to extend trains beyond the existting high-speed lines, the technology shown in the link was developed. (Since then another Spanish company, CAF developed its own rival system; both have contracts about a few dozen 250 km/h trainsets for Spanish railways.) An English page on the Talgo prototype can be viewed here.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:15:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently Russia also has a different gauge from the rest of mainland Europe. The story is that in both cases the gauge was chosen to prevent France from invading by train (thank Napoleon for that one), but I don't know if that's true.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:22:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hah! At least in the case of Russia, I heard something similar - but the theory was disproved in both world wars, when track gangs proved quite fast in changing gauges (done easily on traditional wood sleepers).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:45:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I remember the Irun railway station in Spain at the border crossing with France which was were all trains from Paris ended and if you wanted to continue on you had to change trains. I always perceived it as a way to control rail traffic into Spain especially under Franco but I'm no expert on the Spanish rail system.

Here is some info on the Russian gauge from Wikipedia

In the nineteenth century, Russia chose a broader gauge. It is widely believed that the choice was made for military reasons, to prevent potential invaders from using their rail system. Others point out that no clear standard had emerged by 1842. Engineer Pavel Melnikov hired George Washington Whistler, a prominent American railroad engineer (and father of the artist James McNeill Whistler), to be a consultant on the building of Russia's first major railroad, the Moscow - St. Petersburg line. The selection of 1.5 m gauge was recommended by German and Austrian engineers, it was not the same as the 5 ft (1524 mm) gauge which was in common use in the southern United States at the time. Russia and most of the former Russian Empire, including the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, the Caucasian and Central Asian republics, and Mongolia, have the official Russian measurement of 1520 mm, 4 mm narrower than 5 ft (1524 mm), though rolling stock of both gauges is interchangeable in practice.

Another interesting short article on the history of rail gauges is here.

I've always loved trains!

by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 01:03:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another interesting story about TALGO (which I don't know whether it's true or not) is that, on the higher-quality, more level, less-curvature high-speed lines, TALGO trains are as fast as the much more expensive high-speed AVE trains.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:27:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure what this information refers to, it could be multiple things.

  • One is that the first-generation AVE trains, which are TGV clones, started service in 1992 at reduced top speed - it was raised to 300 km/h only later.
  • The other possibility is that before Córdoba, there is a mountain crossing with strong grades, and the TGV just can't maintain top speed there.
  • The third possibility is a comparison done on the second high-speed line, the Madrid-Zaragoza-Lleida one, on which (due to a new signalling system still not ready for regular service) top speed is restricted to 200 km/h.
  • The fourth possibility is that the reference is to the new S102 class AVE train, which was manufactured by Talgo (factory name: Talgo350), and is capable of 330 km/h - tough it will go that fast only after the signalling is working (lot of pictures here).


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:53:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no problems with that if the actual infrastructure remains public, and if the state is allowed to run or subsidize services to remote/low traffic destinations.

Well I do, wanting an integrated service (not the mess in Britain) and not seeing much sense in paying the deficits of a low-traffic line (always vulnerable to cost-cutting demands) but not getting the profits of high-traffic lines.

Who is going to pay for changing the gauge of the Spanish network?

Well, gauge changing is not part of the unification of technical standards, so I suspect the grand Spanish gauge-changing plan will only be paid for by the Spanish state, unless some structural or other EU funds can be tapped. (Some of the gauge-changing is in a way pre-financed, BTW: the track of upgraded Spanish broad-gauge lines like the Corredor Mediterráneo was fitted with special sleepers, on which gauge changing is a relatively simple task.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:04:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I meant is that Spain will likely resist changing the gauge of existing lines. How does the EU expect French operators to operate in Spain?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:07:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean, the current proposed national plan (PEIT) will be abadoned?

How does the EU expect French operators to operate in Spain?

Well, on international passenger lines, that will be easy: when the line across the Perthus tunnel opens, no gauge problem. But French (or Italian, or German, or private SPanish) operators can buy gauge-changing trains, too. Freight is another issue, but one limiting even traditional transport with handover at borders. I somehow feel Ricardo's Principle is at work here.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:42:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is great news for Talgo and CAF :-)

I was very surprised to learn a few years ago that Talgo had been chosen to provide the trains for the American line between Portland, OR and Seattle, WA.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:50:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At around the same time, they even sold it to Germany, as night train!

And recently, CAF sold its own 250 km/h train (but in a non-gauge-changing verson) to Turkey, for service from 2007 or 2008 (most of the Ankara-Istambul line will by then be upgraded for 250 km/h) - beating rivals from Europe and Japan.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:57:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I mean is that if the EU were to rule that the different gauge is a barrier to competition and must be replaced immediately at Spanish expense there would be a lot of resistance. I guess the 20-30 years you mention in another post must be commensurate with maintenance schedules.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 01:02:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for your answers - a couple of comments:

  1. Just a side note to delays: Again without empirical proof, the time I was in the Netherland (which is more of the size of Switzerland), trains tended also to be late. I further don't why some comparisons couldn't work (especially I don't see the point in the maintenance argument -  are the SNCF now investing a disproportionate amount of resources to catch up there?).

  2. While the Swiss population has an excellent track record in voting on such issue ("Alpeniniative"), the government has big problems implementing the decided issues. Also there's a tendency to reinsert failed issues into the process fairly quickly -- hopefully with some ameliorations --, so we'll see how well the next 'Avanti'-like iniative will fare.

  3. sigh - you're right. I actually like the Swiss automats, they're working very nice (also from a Usability point of view).

  4. Well, I was mainly thinking of the influences of big infrastructure projects and other subventions which still flow (SBB may turn in an operational profit, but still only about 2/3 of its budget is paid for by the travellers, the rest coming from the government). I'm not sure if it's at all possible to create a bottom line and compare.
by srutis on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 11:19:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On 1: I spoke of maintenance in the context of delays (both tracks in bad shape and track works on long-neglected errors cause delays) and the service that can be offered (also in the contect of branchline closures). The latter doesn't just involve tracks and trains, but stuff like train control and signaling. As for other comparisons: in France or Germany, trains travel longer distances (more chance for delays, and for the transmission of delays as one train waits for another for those changing trains) on a more complex network (the job of coordinating trains at main stations is much more complex), with a more complex (and less taxed) road competition. I didn't wrote about this in the original post, but even comparing the German and French railways (when one focuses on employee number) is not straightforward: the French railways are more focused on passenger transport, which (especially since DB closed most of its small stations for freight) needs more men.

BTW, AFAIK the Netherlands delays problem (which I recall having read of improving recently, would have to look it up to make sure) was a capacity problem - the frequency of trains got too close to the limit of the existing network for minor disturbances to cause a chain reaction.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:17:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another thing is that while in Switzerland, locomotives and carriages were regularly upgraded, and there was a constant but slow purchase of new trains, in France and Germany, in recent years there was a massive push to replace older and less well kept rolling stock in one go. (When I was in Switzerland in 1994, I marvelled at how well old pre-war Ae 4/7 units looked, even in comparison to just 20-year-old German locomotives.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:33:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On 5: hah, and I thought that will be my argument! You are right, these figures are harder to come by than the company balance sheets... I will look what I can find in form of hard data tomorrow, but IIRC the per capita spending on both passenger transport subsidies and big infrastructure projects is significantly higher in Switzerland. (In France, the previous right-wing government even put all newer projects on hold - while the then alone constructed TGV Est is cheaper than NEAT -, starting a general review, whose result in the end was only a lot of delays. In Germany, it's an even sadder story, with some stop-and-go construction like in post-war Italy.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 12:26:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
srutis, I hope you dodn't lost this thread... here come some promised statistics.

First a note on passenger traffic: while transport volumes are similar, the long-distance transport (expresses, high speed) was 54.85 billion p-km (SNCF) vs. 32.33 billion p-km (DB) in 2004. This is clearly a field where SNCF is better, tough it also means that the field with - I suspect - more workers, regional and city trains, is like freight: just above half of Germany's. (This is true for passenger numbers too, BTW.) However, I failed to find figures for how SNCF's employees are distributed according to branches (I do have it for DB), this is what would really be needed for a comparison. More below.

Railway geography: I note that France is twice as big as Germany with 30% less people, yet a network length some 15% below that of Germany (hence more difficult to attract regional passengers). In Switzerland, due to mountains and lakes, most of the population happens to live along railway corridors, and very few branchlines were closed over the last 50 years.

Punctuality: what really matters is long-distance trains (local trains are usually highly punctual, freight trains are presently hopeless). Last year SNCF's were 92% on-time by a 10-minute margin. DB keeps its figures under wraps, but according to leaks, this summer it again fell back from 93.1% in January to below 80% by a 5-minute margin.

Subsidies for traffic: In 2004, SNCF got €3.361 billion (most of this as 50.5% of the regional/city trains unit income), DB got €4.559 billion (as 56.1% of regional/city trains units' income). SNCF also got €677 million for debt service and €2.515 billion for its retirement fund. SBB got CHF 1.9684 billion (total income CHF 7.0086 billion).

Investments (track, stations, trains!): In 2004, SNCF and infrastructure company RFF spent €4.634 billion, getting €2.239 billion in public subsidies. DB spent €7.232 billion (of this €5.283 billion on infrastructure), and for this got €3.988 billion in public subsidies (all figures a significant reduction on last year). I couldn't find a 2004 figure for FinöV spending in Switzerland, or financial summaries on SBB, BLS self-financed projects, but it appears FinöV must involve about CHF 1.5 billion a year - that's c. €1 billion, per capita more than double of the German and most likely two-and-a-half times the French.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Nov 23rd, 2005 at 04:36:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
srutis, I hope you dodn't lost this thread... here come some promised statistics.

Almost I did, but not entierelly! Thank you very much for all this very insightful data! The conclusions seems to, as so often, a hearty "it depends ..." ;-)
by srutis on Thu Dec 1st, 2005 at 06:41:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, I checked, today bikers could go by train from Marseille to Toulouse with trains departing at 00:56, 9:20, 11:37 (changing trains once), 12:50, and 16:16.  

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Nov 21st, 2005 at 06:56:32 PM EST
Watch out, Srutis, DoDO is a train expert! (But you came to the right place!). But thanks for your diary...I think it is important to bring the subject up of strikes, why they happen, what they hope to get out of their action...and how these effect the regular user. All relevant points of discussion. (And is this your first diary? If yes, welcome!)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 02:19:44 AM EST
Yes, indeed it is my first diary -- and the first non-technical and non-email text I've written in a while!
by srutis on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 11:22:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey you got quite  discussion going! Thanks.
by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 01:05:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
SNCF is going through its 6th national strikes (thus not counting all the regional ones that may also take place). This time it's about the (currently unlikely, but you never know) privatisation of the company, but these strikes, highyl visible, have the following explanations:

  • as one of the few companies with strong unions, public sector jobs and in a position for strikes to have a real impact on the whole country, railway strikes have become a tool for "strikes by proxy" by French workers who cannot themselves go on strike. Thus the unexpectedly high support for these inconvenient strikes among the population - the railway workers strike on behalf of others, and allow the strikes to have a real impact.

  • as people with a lot of leverage, they tend to abuse that power and get especially sweet terms for themselves;

  • as people permanently on the "social front", relationships with the management easily become contentious and strikes are a "normal" tool of action.

Thus the frequent strikes, and the patience of the French for them.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 09:18:35 AM EST

Thus the frequent strikes, and the patience of the French for them.

Not just patience but also perhaps a little adventure. Now please don't jump on me for that statement let me explain. I still have fond memories of a taking a free (since no one was checking tickets)& very slow train from Bordeaux to Paris during a strike in December some years ago. Of course the fact that I was on school vacation and didn't have meetings to attend made it more fun than stressful. However, most people on the train were laid back about the whole adventure. In fact I wonder if we didn't all slow down a bit since we were forced to. People talked more readily then usual and exchanged stories of other strikes they got caught up in and the ingenious ways in which they managed whether roller skating to work during the Paris subway strikes or creating new & impromptu carpools with neighbors and/or co-workers. Getting to work became a big production but people for the most part (at least in retrospect) seems to have funny stories and not such bad memories. After all every generation of French students whether in high school or at the university have their own marches through the streets to draw on for first hand strike recollections. My siblings and I each had our respective wave of strikes when in high school. I'll admit that I don't recall in detail what sparked each one but there was always the sense of a need to be heard. One of my favorite stories about the impact of French strikes is from a book titled "Sixty Million Frenchmen can't be wrong"  written by two Canadian journalists Jean Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow. The authors describe a Halloween parade they witnessed:

People, of course, draw on the models they already have - Halloween in Honfleur looked and sounded more like a labor strike than the traditional children's ritual we were accustomed to. The Honfleur children marched in a crowd between police cruisers, their little fists raised, chanting, "We want candies! We want candies!" And what did they do as they proceeded along the port? They actually stormed all the restaurants and boutiques in their path ordering merchants to hand over the goods. We were stunned at this hostile pack of rampaging ghosts and ghouls (they were having fun, tough) but even more surprised to see the grown-up French going along with it.

But when we thought about it, it made sense. Begging for candy - even pretend begging - isn't noble ... Demanding candy via a legally recognized, police escorted manifestation made more sense to the French, even when they were just having fun. p.13


by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 11:28:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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