Two very French attributes—Republicanism and going on strike—look set to combine in chaotic disharmony next week, when striking French workers are expected to disrupt King Charles’ long-planned visit to the country.
Buckingham Palace sources told The Daily Beast they were keeping “a close eye on the situation” after millions of non-union and union members downed tools this week. The widespread protests have been triggered by a rise in retirement age forced through by President Emmanuel Macron’s government.
Charles is due to arrive in Paris on Sunday for his first official overseas visit since acceding to the throne. The gesture of affection for the ancient enemy, after several years in which relations have been strained by Brexit, appears to have been met with a less than rapturous response by union bosses.
“Charles III, we are going to welcome him with a good old general strike,” Olivier Besancenot, of the far-left New Anti-Capitalist Party, said in an interview with France Info.
Certainly the landscape greeting Charles could not be described as one of industrial peace. Refineries and ports have been blockaded, gas stations are running out of fuel, planes have been unable to take off, rubbish is rotting uncollected in the streets, and 790 people have been arrested in Paris alone in the six days since the demonstrations started.
Hauliers have been staging their signature operations escargot (snail operations), where they drive at a crawl along major routes and through arterial junctions. “Operations escargot” is just one of 52 items of strike vocabulary listed by frenchtoday.com. It is likely only a matter of time before one farmer manages to break through police lines and perform that most Gallic of expressions of disgust with the president: dumping a load of manure (une décharge) on the steps of the Elysée Palace.
For planners of the king’s visit, therefore, it is all starting to get rather alarming. Sources at the palace say they are “taking advice” from the French side and have conceded there may be “an impact” on logistics.
Parts of the king’s three-day itinerary already appear to be imperiled: tram drivers in the city of Bordeaux, to which he is due to travel on Tuesday, have indicated they are not willing to take Charles on a planned sightseeing trip of the town. “It is almost certain that the King will not be able to take the tram,” warned Pascal Mesgueni, a representative of the CFTC union, in an interview with Sud Ouest (per the Telegraph). “No driver will want to transport the king.”
The French newspaper of record, Le Monde, said the strikes suggested France could soon find itself “on the brink of the unknown,” and deplored the burning of effigies of Macron on French streets.
More alarming for monarchists, however, might be the new chant that, Le Monde reports, is taking hold among protesters gathered around fires in the Place de la Concorde: “Louis XVI, Louis XVI, they beheaded him; Macron, Macron, we can start again.”
Maybe a raincheck is in order, your Majesty?