A fifth day of transit strikes put Micheline Dumazet right over the edge.
She’s the Avon lady in this town 15 miles west of Paris and normally makes her rounds by car. But with train workers striking again Tuesday, even local roads were clogged with traffic, forcing Dumazet to go by foot.
“Enough! It’s terrible, this strike,” she huffed, pointing to her worn high heels. “When will this end?”
That’s the question on the minds of millions. Strikes are practically a spectator sport in France, but patience is wearing thin as the country endures one of its most paralyzing walkouts in nearly a decade.
On Tuesday, other public employees joined transportation workers as their strike entered a fifth day. The workers are protesting government austerity policies aimed at getting France’s debt-ridden social security and health care system under control.
Thousands of strikers, joined by doctors and students, demonstrated across France. Police said 21,000 demonstrated in Paris, and about 20,000 rallied in Marseille.
Public transportation has ground to a virtual halt nationwide as the strikes cripple rail, subway and bus service. In the French capital, traffic jams of up to 20 miles fanned out from Paris like the spokes of a wheel.
Across France, mail delivery was scaled back, schools were closed and hospitals were providing only emergency services.
“It’s insane,” said Gene LaMay, a minister in Villepreux, a suburb southwest of Paris. “You can’t get anywhere or do anything. You have to wonder where all of this will leave us.”
Many white-collar workers simply stayed home and telecommuted, working on laptop computers and making conference calls. For them, the strikes have been more of an inconvenience than anything else.
Not so for many blue-collar workers, whose jobs depend on getting to work. Hundreds of thousands took to the roads in cars and motor scooters; others hitchhiked, cycled or simply walked.
Regional train service was sporadic in many parts of France, and few long distance trains between major cities were operating Tuesday.