Welcome to France: Strikes and rotting trash
PARIS >> Uncollected trash rotting on the streets of Paris. Strikes on trains that go to the national stadium, and on planes that should be carrying fans. With the eyes of Europe and the world turning to France for the European Championship, the host nation isn't putting on its best face.
A tug of war between the Socialist government and labor leaders over changes to French workplace practices is ensnaring fans hoping for a month of fine football and a great time.
Already Thursday, strikes threw train services to the national stadium into disarray before the opening game it hosts on Friday night.
For Friday, railway and Metro authorities promised extra trains to bypass the strikers and carry 70,000 people — as many as with any normal match — to the stadium in the hours immediately before and after the game, to and from central Paris. The remaining 10,000 of the 80,000 spectators are expected to come by road.
Trains will run every six minutes on the RER B line, bracing to carry 30,000 and every 10 minutes on the RER D, for 20,000 people, the SNCF rail authority said. The Metro expects to carry 20,000 fans to and from the game.
Strikes are also planned from Saturday on the national air carrier, Air France. In swanky Paris neighborhoods, overflowing garbage containers spewed stinking bags of trash onto the streets, uncollected by strikers.
With kick-off just a day away, both the government and labor leaders warned fans to brace for hardship.
"The strike, clearly, will disrupt the Euros," said Beranger Cernon of the left-wing CGT union, leading strikers at the Gare de Lyon, one of Paris' main rail hubs. "We will continue to strike."
Using the arrival of the European Championship to ratchet up pressure on the government is the latest step in an extensive protest movement against a labor bill that will loosen workplace protection. Recent weeks have also seen violent demonstrations and fuel shortages. At least two million foreign visitors are expected for the 24-nation tournament, Europe's biggest sports event since terror attacks in Paris in November and in Brussels in March.
The government's minister for towns, youth and sports accused strikers of "guerrilla" tactics and of making France look bad and suggested that Paris' bid for the 2024 Olympic Games could be undermined as a consequence.
"Ruining the party ruins the image of France," said the minister, Patrick Kanner. "Ruining France's image weakens France long-term."
A big question was how 80,000 fans would get to the opening game, France against Romania at the Stade de France at 9 p.m. on Friday night.
The giant stadium on Paris' northern outskirts, in Saint-Denis, is hosting a total of seven games, including the July 10 final. Organizers generally recommend that spectators take public transport to get there, with two overland lines and one underground Metro line serving the arena.
But strikes made that difficult Thursday on the eve of the match.
While the Metro line to the stadium was running normally on Thursday and will have extra trains for the game, the two overland lines were severely disrupted.
The strikes are having smelly repercussions, too, with trash collection disrupted in half of Paris' 20 districts since Monday, City Hall said.
Just one of six trash-collection centers in the French capital was operating normally and one-third of trash-truck drivers were refusing to work, City Hall said.
Air France said 20-30 percent of its flights would be cancelled on Saturday, day two of the championship, because of a pilots' strike.
CEO Frederic Gagey told reporters the carrier offered a new proposal in a long-running dispute over working conditions, but unions rejected it.
There was a silver lining: Heavy rains that caused extensive flooding, raised the Seine River in Paris to danger levels and played havoc with the tennis schedule at the French Open last week has given way to welcome sunshine. Clouds but no rain are forecast for the skies above the Stade de France on Friday night.