On March 10, the city of Paris was disabled by a general strike of postal and transportation workers, air traffic controllers, ambulance drivers, teachers, students, parents -- the list goes on and on. Really, it seemed as if everyone who could strike did. And those who didn't seized the opportunity to stay home because Métro service was drastically curtailed and, with tens of thousands of workers marching from the Place d'Italie to the Place de la Nation, the roads were clogged.
Their grievance? The usual -- 10% unemployment, salaries lagging the rising cost of living and the 35-hour workweek, which was approved by the government but has been thorny to implement. Strikes are as common here as mudslides, earthquakes and fires are in L.A. The only difference this time was that the International Olympic Committee was in town, assessing Paris' bid for the 2012 games.
Popular unrest isn't exactly attractive to IOC planners, and many people here said that treating them to a general strike on the day they arrived was just another manifestation of the French compulsion to commit long, slow economic suicide. Other news analysts tried to put a positive spin on the events by claiming the strikes demonstrated the robustness of French democracy.
Paris has unsuccessfully bid for the games twice before in the last 20 years, but this time it's a front-runner in a field that includes London, New York, Madrid and Moscow, thanks to an abundance of existing sports venues in the Paris area, such as the 71,000-seat Stade de France northeast of the city. But living here I don't get the feeling that Parisians are particularly pleased by the prospect of hosting the games, which will bring more congestion, clueless tourists and business-as-unusual.
I had to catch a Eurostar train from the Gare du Nord in Paris to London the day of the strike. Fortunately, cab drivers were on the job, and Eurostar was running on schedule. I got to the station two hours before my departure and, because of the strike, was allowed to take an earlier train, even though I had a cheap, nonchangeable ticket. At Waterloo Station in London, I immediately saw the difference between the French and English approaches to wooing the IOC in the form of a big poster in the Tube that said: "Make Britain Proud. Back the Bid." You'd never see that in Paris; no one there has to be told to be proud.