Monday, December 14, 2009

Victory in Canada, Changes in France

A big congratulations to the workers at Ottawa's Museum of Civilization and War! Striking workers have reached a tentative agreement with museum management, one they say helps protect them from contracting out and helps ensure better job security. This is a hard won victory that comes at the end of 85 days on the picket lines. We wish them all the best; they deserve every gain they've won.

The civil service workers' strike that shut many French museums continues, but press coverage and tourist reactions were so unfavorable that strikers have changed their tactics. Instead of barring access, strikers are preventing tourists from paying for admission. This will hopefully quiet disgruntled tourists and a foreign press that seems unable to focus on anything except spoiled vacations, while still making an economic impact.

Kat and I have both found the coverage of the French strikes incredibly disheartening. Granted, neither of us speaks French so most of the articles we have access to are in the travel section of English language newspapers. These have been exclusively of the "Poor Mr. Wu from Ohio, he saved his pennies for a nice Paris vacation and now he can't even see the Mona Lisa! What a waste!" variety. The idea that the reason for the strike (the halving of the civil service workforce) was a legitimate one has rarely been mentioned. The job that museos do has been repeatedly equated with the tourism industry. While there is no doubt that many museum visitors are in fact tourists, museos do more than just point tourists (or other visitors!) towards the restrooms or operate attractions to keep them entertained. This is a genuine profession that requires a high level of education and skill. Objects need to be preserved. Research needs to be performed. History needs to be told. A halved workforce will only do this half as well, and future generations deserve better. The strike should be equated with the preservation of jobs and thus the preservation of human history. If Mr. Wu from Ohio needs to spend more of his Paris vacation sipping coffee at a cafe and less time crowding in front of the Mona Lisa for that to happen, then so be it.

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