On December 24, 2019, ballerinas from the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris performed an excerpt of the world-famous piece Swan Lake for free and outside. The action was the brilliant climax of their protest against the planned pension cuts in the public sector. Public sector workers across the country had already been on strike since December 5 against the government’s plans, and the Opéra Garnier dancers had also joined the protests.
The existing pension system, which was introduced in the 16th century and recognizes the toll that hard work takes on dancers’ bodies, allows retirement at age 42. Macron’s government now wanted to raise the retirement age of all workers across the board to 64. Héloïse Jocqueviel, one of the striking ballerinas, told the press, “We start classical dance at age 8. At the age of 42, we already suffer from arthritis, stress fractures, hernias, and in some cases we have titanium hips. It’s difficult to maintain an excellent level until 42, but 64 seems impossible.”
Another ballerina, Shanti Mouget, told how the workers* collectively decided on this extraordinary protest: “After three weeks of strike, we wanted to show the other workers that we are all in this fight together.” The idea was to attract as much attention as possible without running the risk of the government making their action illegal. Occasional strikes by the ballerinas continued into the spring of 2020, costing the opera millions of euros in lost ticket sales. In the end, the government buckled and withdrew its plans.
About the design: The December design was done by Italian tattoo artist Fede Borgia. It features one of the striking ballerinas in a Swan Lake costume. In the background are the Eiffel Tower and the Paris Opera. The slogan “Dance Hard … Strike Harder!” means something like “Dance hard … Strike harder!”. So the shirt is a great tribute to the brave dancers and especially to their collective success to prevent the unsocial pension cuts.