Strikes are meant to teach us a lesson. Those striking -- by refusing the work send the message--"See, we are valuable! You need us. Treat us better!" France, especially Paris, is famous for such an approach. Striking Parisians has become almost a tired cliché.
These days, however, striking may not be as fruitful as it once was. Today-- the day I'm off to the airport-- the Parisian taxi strike began at 5am. Instead of striking against a heartless employer or a cruel government, they are striking against disruptive economies.
Companies like Uber and Blablacar (a shared ride site) have worsened an already sluggish taxi business. These services are becoming cheaper and more convenient and taxis cannot keep up. Uber can pick people up anywhere whereas as taxis must wait at taxi stands unless telephoned. Blablacar provides a way for people to meet up and share rides places. Though, Blablacar seems to be more of a threat to the French railroad (SNCF) who lost and estimated 1 million ticket sales last year because people are now sharing rides to Normandy instead of taking the train.
Last weekend, for example, I paid 15 Euros for a shared ride from Tours to Paris. The train would have cost 65 Euros.
New Rides are Friendlier
Paris taxi drivers also have a terrible reputation for being rather sour. Not all, of course, my driver Laurent is a grand exception. He pulled the car over and bought me a strawberry tart when we moved me back to the States.
A number of drivers, by contrast, treat people--especially tourists--like your entry into their car is an invasion of their house.
The protests yesterday, including overturned cars and stoning did not improve anyone's reputation.
See, Blablacar and Uber put an end to that because now people rate the service and the driver develops an electronic record. Though Uber has some real political troubles in France. A French lawyer told me over a cafe at the Sarah Bernhardt cafe in Paris that Uber drivers can face up to 15 months in jail, receive a 15k Euro fine and have their cars confiscated.
He said he understood that Uber upset the cab business, at the same time he knows people that became Uber drivers simply because their pension incomes were too low. Uber was keeping them afloat.
So it seems everyone has a valid point.
Taxi Strike Backfires
The idea of the taxi strike is to make people realize how valuable taxis are and to force the government to slowdown the "invasion" of these new cheaper and -- often better-- services.
We will see what happens. Those who dared take Uber to the airport found the roads blocked. I took the RERB- a regional train that goes directly to the airport. For 10 Euros, I had a nice seat by the window in an albiet unairconditioned, but otherwise comfortable ride.
Other folks may have taken the bus, Blablacar, or --like the guy next to me on the plane-- simply driven themselves. Those who relied on taxis uniquely will now be forced to discover the new options.
Taxis now not only are more expensive, they strike on you when you need them. And they may overturn your car if you take an alternative.
Striking was hard enough when it was the Steel workers against Frick and Carnegie--formidable U.S. labor foes in the late 19th Century.
This fine Thursday June 25, 2015, however, the taxis are actually striking against the new economy perhaps a far less greedy foe, but one far more nebulous and difficult to change.
To try to stop Uber and Blalbarcar is tantamount to China trying to stop twitter and facebook. To do so will make the French government appear a state as controlled as the ones it criticizes.
In the end, trains might be the most sensible way to travel anyway. Though I do wish the best for Laurent and his friends. No one wants to see someone lose their business. I just don't think this strike is going to work in their favor.