In the UK, the announcement of this year’s New Year Honours list led to a backlash of epic proportions. Some of the recipients were, well, let’s just say, less than worthy. Whilst on this side of the channel we are having a jolly good carp about our lot, Paris is doing things differently. As the French National strike headed into its fourth week, a somewhat sophisticated show of solidarity emerged from an unlikely corner when the Paris Opera went on strike.
Paris Opera Ballet Dancers Vs Pension Reform
27 ballerinas along with the orchestra of l’Opéra de Paris staged a Christmas Eve performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in protest. Pending changes to the current pensions in place for ballerinas would prevent dancers from retiring at 42, requiring them to continue working until 62 years of age.
Forget sweaty protests, kettling and Molotov cocktails. The scenes on the steps of Opéra Garnier created what may well be the most elegant picket line ever. Amidst a year of violent Gilet Jaune protests this was street ballet at its very best. Never let it be said that the french don’t know how to strike in style.
Le Culture in Danger
Draped above the steps of the Paris Opéra, a large banner in graceful red script warned ‘La Culture en Danger.’ The dancers performed in protest, with workers across France, to defend their pension rights.
The arduous physical demands of dance require total commitment and rigorous training from an early age. Many in the profession skip high school and university to make the cut. In recognition of that sacrifice, the current retirement age enables dancers to hang up their ballet slippers early.
Macron wants to add an additional 20 years. In a profession where excessive wear and tear on the body and injury is the norm, those extra decades just don’t make sense. Should the retirement age be increased, there is doubt over whether the next generation of talented young dancers will want to carve out a career that demands so much.
A Universal Policy
The current retirement system for ballerinas has been in force since the reign of Louis XIV, albeit revised. Macron states that his pension reforms, raising the retirement age to 62 for everyone will simplify the existing cumbersome and expensive pension system. A universal policy has been promoted by the government as fairer and cheaper. Many in France disagree. Under the new proposals, the dancers would join nurses, transport staff and office workers – with no exceptions. Overhauling the country’s retirement system has resulted in an extended national strike that has bitten the economy hard.
The dancer’s opposition to reforms has shut down some of the capital’s biggest ballet performances at one of their busiest times of year. The last four weeks of strikes have had far reaching consequences for an already struggling economy. Retailers have witnessed a huge slump in seasonal trade. Paris is one of the cities hardest hit. The government has offered City merchants a deferment of 400 million euros in tax payments. The Paris Chamber of Commerce says that Macron’s offer doesn’t go far enough.
Whilst over in the UK we’ve just voted in five more years of austerity, the French have had enough. The Opéra Corp de Paris performance on the steps of Opéra Garnier passed peacefully. Their protest took place minus the usual assortment of riot shields, tear gas and batons. Whatever the outcome of the national strike, one thing is for sure, nobody, but nobody, strikes quite like the French.