Tags: French | Union | Massive | Strikes

French Union Calls for 'Massive' Strikes Next Week

Thursday, 21 Oct 2010 07:24 AM

A French union leader called on Thursday for further "massive" strike action next week against pension reforms that have triggered the biggest and most sustained anti-austerity protests in Europe.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, determined to face down the unions and force through a rise in the retirement age, is facing a refinery strike and fuel blockades that threaten to paralyze the country.

Police stepped in on Thursday to unblock Marseille airport after hundreds of striking refinery workers cut off access in the early hours.

About a quarter of France's service stations still had no fuel, Industry Minister Christian Estrosi said, adding that one fuel depot had been unblocked overnight, leaving 14 out of 200 still blockaded.

Union leaders meet on Thursday evening to plan their next move. Speaking on RMC radio, Bernard Thibault, head of the powerful CGT union, called for a new day of protests next week.

"The government remains intransigent. We need to continue with massive action as soon as next week," he said. "We will ask the unions for strong action that will allow people to stop work and go on to the streets."

French fuel imports have hit record highs as the government tries to get around a blockade of France's largest oil port, Marseille — where 51 oil tankers lie waiting off the coast — and shortages caused by strikes at the country's 12 refineries.

Sarkozy has refused to back down on the bill to raise the minimum retirement age by two years to 62, and wants the reform passed by the end of the month. The president, with his popularity at near-record lows, says the measures are needed to curb the pensions deficit and reduce debt.

"It's not easy but it's necessary," said Labor Minister Eric Woerth. With a Senate vote on the reform now expected on Friday at the earliest, unions were ramping up the pressure.

"The French government is following the Anglo-Saxon economic example," said Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the radical Force Ouvriere union.

"It has to be wary of leading us into a wall," he said, adding he backed further action even if the law was passed.

Student Demos

Students, who fear the reforms will worsen youth unemployment, planned to hold protests across the country. An Air France-KLM spokesman said the strikes were costing the airline 5 million euros ($7 million) a day.

"I'm worried about the consequences of the current conflict which is really damaging France's image," said Maurice Levy, head of the world's third largest advertising agency Publicis.

The strikes are beginning to hit tourism and cultural events ahead of half-term holidays beginning this weekend, with travelers reconsidering holidays.

Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins and his band cancelled a debut tour in Paris, while pop diva Lady Gaga postponed concerts in the French capital.

Opposition senators have been slowing the process of passing the bill by handing in hundreds of amendments. n Wednesday they demanded the debate be suspended and a new round of dialogue opened.

The center-right government, which has a slimmer majority in the upper house, is seen as unlikely to cave in.

However, overnight senators did vote for an amendment that leaves the door open to a review of the pension system after the 2012 presidential elections, a move that could appease some unions.

Protests have largely been peaceful except for sporadic violence in the southeastern city of Lyon and in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where clashes between youths and riot police broke out again on Wednesday.

The Interior Ministry said 245 people were arrested, taking the tally to almost 2,000 since Oct. 12.

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

 
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A French union leader called on Thursday for further massive strike action next week against pension reforms that have triggered the biggest and most sustained anti-austerity protests in Europe. President Nicolas Sarkozy's government, determined to face down the unions...
French,Union,Massive,Strikes
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2010-24-21
Thursday, 21 Oct 2010 07:24 AM
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