Garbage. Heaps, mounds and piles of it are growing daily — and in some places standing higher than a human being.
A strike by Paris garbage collectors, which begins its 16th day on Tuesday, is taking a toll on the renowned aesthetics of the French capital, a veritable blight on the City of Light.
“I prefer Chanel to the stink,” joked Vincent Salazar, a 62-year-old artistic consultant who lives in a tony Left Bank neighborhood. A pile of garbage sits at the corner of his building overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens. “I’ve seen rats,” he said.
But like many nonchalant and strike-hardened Parisians, Salazar doesn’t mind. “I’m fortunate to live here, but I’m 200% behind these guys,” Salazar said. “They’re smelling it all day long,” he said, though “it” wasn’t precisely the word he used. “They should get early retirement.”
He is among the majority of French who, polls show, oppose President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to raise the retirement age by two years, from 62 to 64 for most and from 57 to 59 for garbage collectors.
Macron rammed the showcase legislation of his second term through Parliament last week — without a vote, thanks to a special constitutional article. On Monday, the government won two no-confidence motions put forth by angry lawmakers. The bill is now considered adopted.
But garbage got wrapped up in the politics. And neither unions organizing protests nor some citizens are prepared to back down.
The Socialist mayor of Paris, who supports the strikers, has found herself in a bind. City Hall refused orders to get the trucks out, saying it’s not their job. The police prefecture then ordered garages unblocked. Using private companies, garbage has been collected in “highly impacted” districts, City Hall said. There are problems dumping the garbage in blocked incinerator plants. Still, City Hall said that as of Monday, 9,300 tons of rubbish remained on the streets, down from 10,000 days ago.
Workers in numerous sectors, from transportation to energy, have been holding intermittent strikes since January. But it is the garbage in the French capital that has made garbage collectors, long taken for granted, visible — and their anger obvious.
The city’s vibrant outdoor culture is feeling the effects. Some of Paris’ fabled narrow streets — challenging to negotiate on regular days — are even more choked than usual, forcing people on foot to pass through garbage heaps single file. The scent of rancid, rotting garbage increasingly wafts through the air as spring arrives and the weather grows milder. Seats at some sidewalk cafes located near heaps of rubbish are empty.