More than 100 life models from Paris' Beaux Arts workshops went on strike in the city yesterday, posing nude in freezing temperatures to demand a pay increase, fixed contracts and respect for their work.
The models, who are paid around 10 euros an hour by the Paris town hall, said the government should officially recognise the profession, which would entitle them to benefits such as sick pay. And as their job involves spending whole days sitting around naked even through the winter, they're probably more in need of that than the rest of us.
French unions backed the action, which saw a large flesh-coloured crowd waving placards outside Paris city hall's culture department. Understandably perhaps given the season, they opted against a sit-down protest.
Trouble originally stemmed from Paris city hall banning the tradition of the ‘cornet', a piece of art paper rolled into a cone and passed round after the life-drawing class for tips, as the model got dressed. The models argue that surviving on the minimum wage with no fixed contracts, holiday pay, security cover or job security is impossible without such tips.
In France, life-modelling is seen as demanding work and therefore a serious career choice, which has physical rigours that require training to perform well. In that respect, they believe, they're no different to anyone else. Indeed, if David Blaine can sit in one position for hours not doing anything while others gawp at him, and get rewarded handsomely for it, why not them too?
City hall responded by saying that while it ‘might sound bureaucratic and a bit severe', the coronet flouted laws against being paid in cash for work in government buildings.
The models were drawn by students as they protested, which does rather defeat the object. It's similar to British miners in the 80s stating their case by jumping in a big pit and producing loads of coal. Although at least Arthur Scargill knew to keep his clothes on.
So does this mark a winter of discontent on the streets of Paris? Will the mime artists soon start a co-ordinated gesticulation? Are the human statues of Montmartre going to stand still in anger? Or maybe the city's waiters will simply start sulking. Oh, hang on...
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