In A Grain of Sand – …Three Miles Uphill Both Ways

Dahlia RIzk

I woke up the other morning to this text message on my cell phone, sent from a friend: “Sounds as though there is a bus strike planned for today, so plan on walking!” I looked outside to see pouring rain, a huge disappointment since class was a 45-minute walk away.

Call me selfish, but at that moment I hardly cared what the bus drivers were fighting for or what statement they wanted to make. And on that dreary day, as I climbed down from my bed, I felt more inconvenience than sympathy. And I wasn’t alone; a few days later, another member of my study group also voiced his complaints. He was in a Paris train station trying to catch a train back to Dijon when the strike hit, and so the return trip was something of a nightmare.

When the dust settled, I started wondering if these strikes were worth all the hassle. What exactly do they accomplish? From what I had heard from fellow students or had read in the papers, results are nowhere near guaranteed; nonetheless, workers in France are ever so persistent in holding these strikes.

However, I think I can understand strikes. When you see yourself as a part of an integrated system, where what you do-or don’t do, in this case-has an effect on the rest of the chain, you’re likely to take advantage of that when the time comes. As disgruntled as I was that morning, even I could see the cause-effect relationship. No bus driver means no bus. No bus means walking for 45 minutes in the pouring rain. Plain and simple.

I have no idea if the bus drivers got what they were seeking that day, be it higher wages, better working hours, or more Valentine’s Day cards. But when the buses did resume their schedule the next day, I was sure to smile as I stepped on and compost my ticket. (In France you have to validate your ticket in a machine when you board the bus.)

Maybe that’s all the drivers wanted to get from the strike: appreciation and respect for the role that they play in society. We should offer this to the other physical labor industries, such as mining, plumbing, or textile work. New York City’s Department of Sanitation, for example, is called the City’s Strongest for a reason. They are, after all, the difference between today’s clean and pleasant cities, and those of the say, eighteenth century, where sewage could come up to your knees.

I’m not saying that I am hoping for more strikes. I guess I’m just glad to have been reminded of the importance of all the working parts of the infrastructure, and that any discontent can be freely voiced without the risk of job loss. If that necessitates walking in the rain, then so be it.