I had to take the RER B last week, and had the good fortune to do so when the transportation folks called a strike, meaning there was one train running for every three. Even better, I ended up taking the train at rush hour. I boarded several stations away from the transportation hub that is Gare du Nord and it was already packed. Standing passengers were packed in so tight that chests were mashed into shoulders and strangers' faces were close enough to kiss. Those who couldn't even reach a pole to stabilize themselves found that they could lift their feet from the ground and still stay in place. I was pushed backfirst into an older woman still seated on one of the fold out chairs on the standing area of the train. I knew my backside must be brushing her head but couldn't move out of my knee-bent, spine-cocked-to-the side position. It was stuffy. People smelled bad. Then we arrived at the next station.
People waiting to board looked up at our train in horror, realizing they had to either squish in with us or wait in the cold until God knows when and another train would arrive. Suddenly, the RER train turned into a Titanic lifeboat with people shamelessly pushing eachother out of the way to board. Shouts of protests went ignored and two men bickered about who pushed who and as the doors closed, they were forced to argue for the next 20 minutes compressed together in what could only be described as hugging.
When we rolled into Gare du Nord, my back muscles were cramping and I was sitting on said old lady's shoulders, which were stronger than I'd have thought. I was facing away from the platform and to my right I heard "Oh la la..." and then to my left I heard "Oh la la..." Then, I turned and seeing the sight, I gasped "Oh la la!" Gare du Nord was a group of Titanic lifeboats with an endless sea of people scrambling over each other to cram into the already over capacity trains. After I got out and readjusted my spine, I knew I couldn't be mad at the masses of people agressively forcing themselves on board. The people I could be mad at were the SNCF workers on strike. No one seems to find it ridiculous that they strike so much. A friend gave us a print out of the SNCF's "grievous" working conditions after a big strike last year. I've shared this with some of you before, but for those who haven't seen it, check it out. I translated it from French so if it sounds funny, that's why.
-Starting salary: 2,200€ to 3,200€ ....net monthly (1 Euro is about $1.20)
-Free healthcare: Covered 100 percent at 15,900 medical centers
-Retirement at age 50, sans commentaire
-End of year bonus
-All kinds of bonuses, including one that translates to charcoal bonus...? Maybe for the BBQ's they have with all that downtime?
-Free transportation for employees and their families
-A 25 HOUR WORK WEEK
The SNCF represents 1 percent of employees in France, yet their workers account for 20 percent of days on strike among all strikes in France. And in France, that's saying something. Add that I read this right after reading about rickshaws being banned in Calcutta, leaving rickshawers complaining about no longer getting those 17 cents a day to support their families. Whatever happened to perspective? Something to ponder the next time I find myself on an overcrowded train sitting on top of some old lady's shoulders.