Strikes: they are not always the solution

© My Hourglass

Lately there have been a lot of strikes going on around Europe, mostly related to the austerity measures that are being implemented to help pull us out of the recession. They have been given a lot of coverage by media, and of course we cannot help but feel sorry for our Greek neighbours. However, whether strikes are good for society or not remains to be seen. 

Having grown up in France, I have quite a particular relationship with strikes. Throughout most of school, teachers would regularly go on strike. We enjoyed it quite a bit, as it meant we had more free periods to hang out, but as exams started approaching we would resent the fact that we were falling behind in our program.

Sometimes, we would organise our own strikes. To be honest, I have no idea what they were about and I doubt we did then either. At age 15 or so, how can you take part in a strike and know what it means? Clearly strikes are so embedded in French culture, starting at a very young age to make sure that, as life goes on, you will be a cooperative worker always prepared to hop on the bandwagon and go on strike.

With hindsight, and having lived in the UK whilst one of France’s biggest protests went down (against the Contrat Premier Embauche CPE), I feel that this propensity to go on strike is a little ridiculous, and defeats its own purpose. Not only that, but it disrupts the lives of so many people, who would really rather just be left alone.

Just the other day, a friend of mine was trying to make her way to Bordeaux for the annual En Primeur week, and spent close to 5 hours delayed at the airport due to a French air traffic controllers strike, wondering if she would ever make it. This is a precise example of how strikes can ruin people’s lives, and create more damage than necessary to get a message across. Surely the air traffic controllers want to send their message to their employers or the government, and the passengers travelling have nothing to do with the fact that jobs will be cut in the near future?

In France, the scenario is often the same: at any time of year when there is a big holiday in perspective, people live in fear and anticipation of a strike. Christmas, Easter, Summer holidays, conversations are all the same “oh yes I heard the was a strike, I hope my trip won’t be affected” “imagine if our train/flight was cancelled, it would be such a nightmare” “oh the metro isn’t working so I’ll have to find another way to get from one station to another”. I won’t go on as I am sure you can imagine, and have probably been a victim of this yourself.

I understand why people want to strike, and to some extent I think it can be worth doing. Going on strike puts across a powerful message: we will not be putting up with this! It forces the people concerned to notice you, be it employers or the government, and realise that you are particularly unhappy with the changes they are suggesting. It shows that the people have the power, and sometimes it works. Employers and governments back down and give in to the demands of the strikers.

However I believe that in order to be truly efficient, the strikes should be few and far between. Let’s go back to the example of France: the French are on strike so often that it has become a joke. For a start, no one can keep up with what the strikes are about as it changes so often. Second, attention has started to wane and the strikes are less effective in getting employers or the government to back down.

It’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf: if you strike too often, soon people will stop noticing you and taking your requests seriously. Of course, some strikes in France are effective, as the aforementioned CPE protests. But mostly, the french are just annoying everyone else at home and abroad, whose lives are regularly disrupted.

One has to ask these people: do they really know why they are striking? Do they really believe in what they are striking for, or are they just joining in with the crowds? It sometimes seem to me as if the people who go on strike, are a bit like spoiled children who refuse to be occasionally told off. Sometimes, measures brought in by governments are truly the best solution at the time. Of course, it’s like swallowing cod liver oil: it’s nasty, but it’s necessary.

Take the austerity measures currently being implemented in Greece and other neighbouring countries. Yes the cuts are very severe, and these will be tough times ahead. On the other hand, the cuts are necessary if the country wants any chance to survive and not go bankrupt. Similarly, the CPE contract was a necessary evil.

People have been too used to taking matters into their own hands by striking, and getting what they want in return. This means that at times they have stopped governments from doing their work properly. They have stopped reforms coming in that were necessary and might have provided positive outcomes in the long run. Essentially, they are destroying their own future without even realising it, because they are too caught up in the moment.

I believe in freedom of expression and think that it is an important right we have acquired. Similarly, I believe in the right to strike for a worthy cause. However these two powers must not be abused, until we reach a point where they no longer have any meaning, and peoples’ lives are made miserable because of it.

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