The Eiffel Tower remains closed for the fourth day due to the strike of its workers


Anthony Aranda, a 23-year-old tourist from Peru, only had two days to visit Paris with his cousin, so reaching the top of the Eiffel Tower was high on his to-do list. But on Thursday he had to cross it off that list without setting foot in France's famous Iron Lady.

A labor strike, now in its fourth day, kept the tower closed.

“Next time we will travel to London, so this was our last chance,” Aranda said in the drizzle as he looked at the wrought iron monument. “That was the idea, at least.”

Aranda, who is studying electronic engineering in Spain, said he would get over the disappointment, adding, as striking workers beat drums nearby, that “they are just fighting for their rights.”

But in Paris, just months before the city hosts the summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, there are concerns that the fight could turn into a protracted and highly visible labor dispute at one of the capital's most visited monuments. French. In fact, the site is so symbolic that medals created for the Games will be embedded with iron from the tower itself.

“It is the image of France,” said Olivia Grégoire, the French minister in charge of tourism. he told Sud Radioadding that he understands the concerns of Eiffel Tower workers.

The main allegation from the unions representing the strikers is that financial mismanagement at the Société d'Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, which operates the monument, is jeopardizing essential renovation work. Unionized workers have threatened to continue their strike as long as necessary.

The tower operator and city officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this article. But the City Council rejected accusations of negligence, denied that the tower suffered from dangerous corrosion and expressed confidence that the labor dispute would not drag on indefinitely.

“I'm not particularly worried about strikes during the Olympic Games,” said Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris. he told Franceinfo radio station On Wednesday.

He acknowledged that the tower operator had suffered losses of about 130 million euros, about $140 million, during the pandemic. But he said the city “has never failed in its duty” to the monument.

“The city supports the Eiffel Tower: it is its jewel,” Grégoire added. “We are going to get out of this situation. “We trust that the operating company will speak with the workers and allay their concerns.”

Standing at 1,083 feet tall (about three-quarters the height of the Empire State Building, including its spire), the tower attracts nearly seven million tourists a year. But on Thursday morning few were seen.

Visitors with tickets purchased online received an email about the closure and were refunded; the gloomy weather seemed to keep many others away. For the few who remained, the tower was a quick photo stop on the way to attractions like the Louvre Museum.

“It's very beautiful,” Barkin Gursoy, a 24-year-old lawyer visiting from Istanbul, said of the tower as he passed by. “Even better in the rain.”

But unions say beauty is under threat.

The city of Paris owns the Eiffel Tower and is a majority shareholder in the company that manages it and employs about 360 people. Under an agreement now being reviewed, the company pays an annual fee to the city: it paid €8 million in 2021 in royalties and almost €16 million in 2022.

Unions say the city is now asking for €50 million a year, a figure they fear will affect the operator's ability to keep the Eiffel Tower in good condition. It is necessary to periodically remove the old paint from the monument and give it a new coat to prevent rust and other forms of deterioration.

On Thursday, more than 50 striking workers chanted and waved union flags and signs near the staff entrance. One banner showed Mayor Anne Hidalgo milking the Eiffel Tower and accused her of using the monument as a “source of income.”

Nada Bzioui, representative of the Force Ouvrière union for Eiffel Tower workers, said at the site on Thursday that recent painting campaigns had gone over budget and were limited to the exterior parts of the tower, hiding internal corrosion.

He said the unions were not against paying a fee to the city, but wanted more financial breathing room. He also questioned the company's continued ability to pay maintenance costs and workers' salaries.

“It's a national monument,” Ms. Bzioui said. “We can't let it decompose like this.”

The unions had walked out over similar complaints in December, the centenary of the death of Gustave Eiffel, the civil engineer whose company designed and built the monument. On Thursday, one of the unionists' posters made reference to it and said: “City Hall is getting stuffed. I'm sorry, Gustavo. (Rhyme in French).

“Workers have been sounding the alarm for months, even years,” Sophie Binet, president of the Confédération Générale du Travail, France's second-largest union, said at the tower during a visit to lend her support.

A handful of tourists watched from afar as the workers protested. Many onlookers were sympathetic, including Mariana Pedrosa Ramos Pinto, 43, an English and French teacher from southern Brazil who was in Paris with her husband to celebrate her 15th wedding anniversary.

“We were hoping to visit, but it's okay, we can take pictures,” Ms. Ramos Pinto said as the couple took shelter under a blue umbrella. “It was more to appreciate it from the outside.”

After all, the couple noted, Brazil's president is a former union leader. And many visitors already see France as a country where strikes are as common as baguettes.

“We didn't expect to go up,” Ms. Ramos Pinto said, adding of the protest: “We were Waiting for something like this.”

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