The Louvre, the world’s most-visited museum, is closed Wednesday because its workers have gone on strike. But the Parisian museum’s 1,000 workers do not want better conditions. They are protesting the roving bands of pickpockets that haunt the museum, against whom they say authorities are not doing enough.
The Louvre managament said it filed a complaint with the public prosecutor’s office in December because the criminals were “becoming more numerous and aggressive” and were targeting museum guides and staff as well as visitors, according to a story in the Paris newspaper Le Monde.
Two hundred museum employees walked out Wednesday after a meeting of the three trade unions that represent Louvre workers. About a hundred of them staged a protest in front of the Culture Ministry, which controls the Louvre, reported France Presse.
The ministry has agreed to “examine the problem with the ministries of the Interior and Justice, especially considering whether to beef up security around the museum.”
The Louvre employees “are fed up,” Christelle Guyader of the SUD trade union said. “They sometimes come to work in fear because they are confronted with organized gangs of increasingly aggressive pickpockets, including minors, who enter the museum free of charge and who come back a few days later, even when the police question them.”
She did not specify whether the suspected thieves are French or from other ethnic communities on whom Western Europeans often blame petty crime of this sort, such as the Roma. The liberal-leaning daily Libération said they were "minors from Eastern Europe." Another Parisian newspaper, Le Figaro, reported that these are the same pickpockets who prey on visitors at other famous sites in the city including the Nôtre Dame cathedral and the Eiffel tower.
Several Louvre employees were “spat on, insulted, threatened and hit,” Guyader added. Official complaints to the police “did not produce any effect,” even though the museum has decided to ban from entry some people who have been identified as pickpockets.
Around 470 of the museum’s employees are on duty on any given day. The Louvre was visited by 8.8 million people in 2011, an increase of 5 percent over the previous year.
On Wednesday, the museum’s homepage made no mention of the closing.