As Strikes Continue in France, Garbage and Resentment Pile Up

The basements of residences and businesses closer to the river flooded after the recent downpours, which temporarily closed the city’s museums.


Trash piled up throughout Paris during a strike of garbage collectors.

Charles Platiau/Reuters

Tourism is way down this year in Paris, among the world’s most visited cities: It fell 15.5 percent in the first two months, with the greatest drop among Japanese visitors. The threat of terrorism is the principal reason, after the two major attacks of 2015.

A gathering spot for soccer fans near the Eiffel Tower, known as the Fan Zone, is heavily policed, with stringent searches. The director of France’s domestic intelligence agency, Patrick Calvar, recently told a parliamentary commission that France remained the No. 1 target of the Islamic State.

“This, all this, it’s not good for the tourists,” said Omar Anraoui, who was looking at the overflowing garbage cans from a bar down the street from Mr. Collard’s cafe. “We’ve got a lovely country here. But this is how we welcome people?”

“And then, when the tourists get drunk, they’ll start messing with it,” he said, gesturing at the cans.

Their neighborhood off the Boulevard St. Michel, one of the most popular with tourists in all of Paris, has been especially hard hit by the garbage strike. Nearby on the Boulevard St. Germain, tourists at the iconic Deux Magots cafe looked out from neatly trimmed boxwood enclosures onto a wall of overflowing garbage cans.

“This isn’t exactly the best way to welcome the Euro, is it?” said Carole Cossart, who works at an art gallery near the cafe, referring to the soccer tournament. Garbage cans were overflowing 10 feet away. Ms. Cossart smiled slightly. “And on top of all the flooding! Oh là là!”

Not all of Paris is covered in uncollected garbage. Half of the city’s 20 arrondissements, or districts, are served by private companies that continue to collect the trash, and many streets are unaffected. Paris’s City Hall on Friday announced the deployment of additional garbage collection trucks, promising that the city would soon be cleaned up.

Still, the largest garbage treatment center, just outside Paris, remains picketed by workers. On Friday, the General Confederation of Labor, known as the CGT, not the biggest but the most militant union and the Socialist government’s main adversary, called on the workers to continue striking until the government gives in on the dispute.

For the most part, Parisians put their heads down as they walked past chock-full Dumpsters, doing their best to ignore the unsightly spectacle. “Could be a lot worse,” said the barman at a cafe in the Eighth Arrondissement.


A man tossed garbage onto a growing heap on Friday as strikers blocked access to a waste treatment center outside Paris.

Kamil Zihnioglu/Associated Press

One-third of the trains on two of the principal suburban lines, including one that serves the main soccer stadium, the Stade de France, have been hit by the strike, as have half of the intercity and exurban trains. Express trains are running closer to normal.

The government’s transportation secretary warned that he would not allow the Euro tournament — which is expected to draw about 2.5 million visitors — to be disrupted, and he threatened to force train conductors back to work. Fans reported little trouble in reaching the stadium on Friday, according to the French news media. (In a different kind of disruption, the police in Marseille used tear gas on Saturday to disperse fans who were fighting before the England-Russia match, news agencies reported. Fighting also broke out in the southern city of Nice before Northern Ireland’s match against Poland, leaving several people injured, according to news media reports.)

But things could get worse before they get better. Philippe Martinez, the mustachioed former Communist Party member who leads of the CGT and is orchestrating the strikes, appears often in the French news media to express his disdain for the government’s proposed changes to the labor law.

“We started with demonstrations, we did one, two, three, four,” he told the newspaper Le Parisien on Saturday. “They didn’t listen to us. At a certain point the workers got mad and went on strike.”

On Saturday, Mr. Martinez also said Tuesday’s demonstration would be “enormous.”

But in this fight he is up against another public figure with Iberian roots who also flaunts his toughness, Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Recently, Mr. Valls had become sufficiently perturbed by the damage to France’s image from all the turmoil that he summoned a number of foreign journalists based in Paris to explain that the country was doing quite well, appearances to the contrary.

“I want these strikes to end as quickly as possible,” Mr. Valls said. He said he would not withdraw the changes proposed to the labor law, but he acknowledged the harm that Mr. Martinez’s offensive could cause. “It is true that we are concerned for the economic consequences, and especially for tourism,” Mr. Valls said.

He tried to draw the larger lessons from the labor conflict now convulsing France.

“What’s happening now is very important in French unions,” he said. “There’s a debate in the union movement between those who are interested in dialogue, and those who are not. There is also a debate in French socialism. How do we reform in this country? Can a minority block? Reform is possible. It’s a question of political will.”

There were faint rays of hope by Saturday morning. The Café de la Tourelle reported that the trash had been picked up from the Rue Hautefeuille. And the French national soccer team won its opening-night match against Romania.

“France is breathing a little easier this morning,” a commentary in Le Parisien said.

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