Holiday blues: French strikes hit Christmas shopping season

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Commuters leave a train at the Gare de l'Est train station Monday, Dec. 23, 2019 in Paris. France's punishing transportation troubles may ease up slightly over Christmas, but unions plan renewed strikes and protests in January to resist government plans to raise the retirement age to 64. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS – Last year, it was the yellow vest protests. This year, it’s the strikes that have crippled Paris. The Christmas holidays aren’t proving to be a lucrative - or indeed merry - time for boutiques in the capital.

Or, for that matter, oyster vendors. Or hotels, or cafes.

Decorative lights still shimmer along the French capital’s glamorous avenues and illuminate its breathtaking monuments, but that’s not enough to bring back the business that retailers have lost since train drivers and others went on strike Dec. 5.

Monday marked Day 19 of the strikes over President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to redesign the national pension system, which unions see as a threat to the French welfare system and way of life.

A wildcat protest by union activists Monday disrupted traffic on one of only two Paris subway lines that’s been functioning normally — and prevented shoppers from reaching the shopping mecca along the Champs-Elysees.

Those driving to the capital to shop sometimes face hours of traffic, and battles or long waits for scarce parking spots.

“It’s very difficult. I usually go the Galeries Lafayette several times, walk through Paris to buy things, but this time I gave that up,” said Marie Lesage, a 32-year-old Parisian.

So she decided to shop online or in little boutiques close to work.