Strike in France closes many museums, chateaux

May 23, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PARIS -- French workers appear to be particularly skilled in timing their strikes to have maximum impact.

Last summer, as France prepared to welcome thousands of foreign soccer fans here for the World Cup finals, Air France pilots went on strike.

This year, with warm weather and the start of the tourist season, the staff of government-owned museums and historic chateaux are out on strike.

Last week the tourists crowding Paris found the city's main museums shut.

Louvre closed

The strike, which began Wednesday, shut the doors of the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay and the Picasso Museum. On the Left Bank, the Cluny Museum of Medieval Art was closed, as was the Pantheon.

Outside Paris, staff members were on strike at a number of castles, including Fontainebleau, but Versailles has remained open.

Strikes at museums have happened before, but this was the first time in recent years that so many of France's most renowned historical treasures were inaccessible.

The main demand of the strikers, all employees of the Culture Ministry, is for the government to hire more people and create at least 1,000 new jobs.

They particularly want more security guards, whose numbers, the strikers contend, have not swelled to match the ever-growing stream of visitors.

Strikers also demand that the government end the system of hiring people on temporary contracts and instead offer permanent jobs.

Friday, hundreds of frustrated tourists milled around near I. M. Pei's glass pyramid that gives access to the Louvre. Instead of a ticket to the museum, visitors got pamphlets from striking workers, explaining their grievances.

They did not get much sympathy.

A family from Sydney, Australia, said that seeing the Louvre's great collections from ancient Egypt and Greece would have been the highlight of their trip to Paris.

`Real jobs for culture'

Across the Seine, at the Musee d'Orsay, which houses many of the best impressionist works, strikers had put up a banner reading "Real jobs for culture," a point that was lost on many visitors.

Groups of Germans and Portuguese sat on the museum steps in the spring sun, straining to understand picketing employees who explained their cause in rapid French.

The Musee d'Orsay normally gets 2.8 million visitors per year.

The few museums that have stayed open have received an extra crush of visitors.

That includes the Orangerie in the Jardin des Tuileries, which currently shows "Nympheas," a large exhibition of Monet's waterlily paintings.

The Rodin Museum said it has also been extra busy.

Pub Date: 5/23/99

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