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French Schools, Roads Blocked in General Labor Strike (Update1)

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Bloomberg.com Europe

By Helene Fouquet

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) — Hundreds of thousands of people marched in cities across France as labor unions called a one-day general strike in what’s turning into the biggest protest since President Nicolas Sarkozy was elected in May 2007.

The nation’s eight largest unions joined forces in the strike, saying Sarkozy’s 26 billion-euro ($34.4 billion) economic-stimulus package is inadequate. Workers are demanding the government do more to counter rising unemployment and falling purchasing power as France enters its first recession in 16 years. The eight unions represent the bulk of France’s 1.9 million-strong unionized workforce.

The strike resulted in train delays, closed schools and jammed roads as more than a million public sector workers and thousands of others from companies including France Telecom SA and Renault SA participated in the work stoppage.

“I can’t imagine that the head of state will say tomorrow, ‘I didn’t see anything, I didn’t hear anything, I have nothing to say,’” Bernard Thibault, the head of Confederation Generale du Travail, France’s second-biggest labor union, told RTL radio. He said 1.5 million people had begun marching in the streets across the country at 2 p.m. local time.

While France has a history of street protests, the global financial crisis has sparked similar demonstrations and unrest in countries from China and Greece to Iceland. France’s most disruptive transport strike in over a decade in November 2007 cost as much as 400 million euros a day, according to finance ministry estimates.

Service Disruptions

Most buses and subway lines were running in Paris — better than many had expected — while roads around the capital had bumper-to-bumper traffic. Several buses were empty as people chose to stay home. Ten percent of the flights at Paris’s Charles-de-Gaulle airport were canceled and third of those at the city’s second airport Orly were scrapped. In Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse, most public transport was canceled.

Unions said 300,000 strikers are marching in Marseille and 80,000 in Bordeaux. In Paris, they will march from the Bastille to the Garnier Opera square. The number of demonstrators may be as large as the 2006 marches against a disputed youth-work law that forced the government to scrap it.

“With such a mobilization, the government would be irresponsible not to react,” Jean-Claude Mailly, general secretary of the Force Ouvriere union said.

Strike Participation

Participation in the strike today ranged from 25 percent at the Bank of France to more than 60 percent in primary schools. The Public Service Ministry reported that 24 percent of its staff walked out, or about 850,000 people. That’s more than the 20 percent strikers in November 2007.

Credit Lyonnais said 16 percent of its staff walked out. At Societe Generale SA it was 5.5 percent. Renault SA reported 10 percent strikers and as much as 16 percent at its Sandouville factory. PSA Peugeot Citroen declined to disclose strike rates.

The size of the demonstrations today, unions said, will force action from Sarkozy, whose popularity fell five points to 49 percent, an Isama poll for Valeurs Actuelles magazine released yesterday showed. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents said Sarkozy should demand more from companies that get state support.

“Blocking works and it’s a constitutional right,” Marie- George Buffet, a Communist Party member said on i-tele today.

Popular Support

Unions representing doctors, nurses, Bank of France employees, television and radio stations and other civil servants asked for “urgent measures for employment and wages” and a further boost to the economy. Employees of companies including Electricite de France SA, France Telecom SA and French units of International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett- Packard Co. are among those participating in the strike.

About 69 percent of the French people back the strike, according to a poll by CSA-Opinion for newspaper Le Parisien on Jan. 25. Forty-six percent support the strike, while 23 percent “sympathize,” with the union call, Le Parisien said. Of those interviewed, 12 percent were opposed or hostile to the strike.

It’s the first time in Sarkozy’s presidency that a “social movement” has had such public approval, Stephane Rozes, head of CSA-Opinion told the daily.

The French economy, the euro area’s second largest, may contract 1.8 percent this year, the worst performance since World War II, the European Union projected on Jan. 19. Companies are cutting jobs as the credit crunch derails purchases of homes, cars and factory machinery.

Unemployment

The EU sees France’s unemployment rate at 9.8 percent this year and 10.6 percent next year. The number of jobseekers in France has risen for seven months, the biggest jump on record in November.

“Strikes are not the answer to the crisis,” Budget Minister Eric Woerth said today on RMC Radio. “The answer to the crisis is the stimulus package, and we must do everything to make it efficient.”

About 60 percent of France’s high-speed trains, or TGV, ran today, said Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, the national railway. Workers began the strike last night at 8 p.m., disrupting regional TER train services and local Corail lines, where service was at 40 percent.

Eurostar and Thalys services to London and Brussels are running normally, SNCF said. The railroad said each strike day costs the company about 20 million euros.

Trains, Planes

RATP, the Paris transport authority, said 80 percent of the city’s subways were running on 12 of its 14 lines and that bus operations “were almost normal.” One out of five RER A regional trains was running, with no service on RER B in the direction of the Orly airport. The Roissybus, going to and from the Charles-de-Gaulle airport, was running normally. Only two out of the 10 metro lines were operational in Marseille.

Air France-KLM Group said all long-haul flights are maintained and canceled 10 percent of its domestic and medium- haul flights. It canceled 30 percent of its flights from Orly. Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse and Nice airports ran almost normally, DGAC, the French aviation authority said.

The Education Ministry said 48 percent of primary school teachers and about 30 percent of secondary school teachers were on strike. Union estimates were higher, with 67 percent for primary and more than 50 percent for secondary school.

The strike at the Port of Marseille disrupted and delayed vessels, spokeswoman Claire Battedou said by telephone.

Output at French power plants operated by Electricite de France, Europe’s biggest electricity producer, fell by 14,000 megawatts because of strikes, a “record amount,” the CGT union said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Helene Fouquet in Paris at Hfouquet1@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: January 29, 2009 10:53 EST

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601085&sid=aVzg0rO_P9tE&refer=europe

More:

French Workers Strike to Protest Economy
Voice of America –
By Lisa Bryant A nation-wide strike in France has severely disrupted air, rail and commuter service across the country. Hospitals have reduced staff, and teachers, civil servants, journalists and transportation workers have decided not to show up to

French strikers demand protection from global storm AFP
International Herald TribuneReutersFOXNewsTIME

Slideshow

FT.com

French strikes

Published: 12:41 | Last updated: 12:41

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Hundreds of thousands of French workers are staging a one-day national strike on Thurday, bringing widespread disruption to public transport and air travel and shutting down schools and other public services.

Black Thursday   January 29

Hundreds of thousands of French workers hold a one-day national strike protesting against job cuts, temporary lay-offs, the government’s economic and welfare reforms and the lack of fiscal stimulus measures aimed directly at helping households.

Protesters take to the streets in the eastern French city of Lyon. Workers across France joined the nationwide strike to try to force President Nicolas Sarkozy and business leaders to do more to protect jobs and wages during the economic crisis.

Workers wave Solidaries trade-union flags as they protest in the streets of Nice, southern France duing France’s first major strike triggered by the global financial crisis.

Several French cities saw large protests by striking employees. Bernard Thibault, leader of the communist CGT union, said 1m people had taken part by mid-afternoon.

Workers from French state-run railway SNCF protest in the streets of Nice.

More pictures- http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9710867c-ee00-11dd-b791-0000779fd2ac.html

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

January 29, 2009 at 5:29 pm

One Response

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  1. how does this signing effect our
    protection to strike w/out being
    replaced?

    christopher hudson

    January 31, 2009 at 8:01 pm


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