Thursday, January 29, 2009

Transport Hit By French Strikers

Transport hit by French strikers

Rail and air services in France have been disrupted as public and private sector workers stage a one-day strike linked to the economic crisis.

More than a million workers have joined rallies to demand action to protect jobs and wages, AFP news agency says.

Despite the show of public support, the strike appeared to be falling short of the paralysis forecast by unions.

Regional trains and those in and around Paris were hit, and a third of flights from Orly airport were cancelled.

Forty per cent of regional services were running, operator SNCF said, and 60% of high-speed TGV services. Three-quarters of Metro trains were running in Paris.

A third of flights out of Paris' second airport, Orly, were cancelled, but those out of the larger Charles de Gaulle hub were experiencing only short delays, AFP news agency said.

Schools, banks, hospitals, post offices and courts were also hit as workers stayed at home. Officials said just over a third of teachers and a quarter of postal and power company workers were on strike.

Overall, some 23% of the country's public sector workers are thought to have joined the action.

Many workers were gathering in Paris for a mass demonstration in the afternoon.

The protests are against the worsening economic climate in France and at what people believe to be the government's poor handling of the crisis.

According to a 25 January poll by CSA-Opinion for Le Parisien, 69% of the French public backs the strike.

"I'm tired and frozen after waiting half-an-hour on the platform," commuter Sandrine Dermont told AFP as she arrived by train in Paris.

"But I'm prepared to accept that when it's a movement to defend our spending power and jobs. I'll join the street protests during my lunch break," she said.

Hit hard

Last summer, President Nicolas Sarkozy boasted that these days when there is a strike in France, nobody notices, says the BBC's Emma-Jane Kirby in Paris.

But this time, our correspondent adds, the strike will hit hard.

Many people are angry French banks were given a multi-billion euro bail-out while floundering industries and businesses were offered far less help.

With unemployment looking likely to hit 10% by next year, the French are now looking for assurances from their president that he will drop his programme of cost cutting reforms and instead turn his attention to relaunching the ailing economy, our correspondent says.

"We want to show how the people are dissatisfied with the situation at the moment," Thierry Dedieu of the CFDT general workers' union told the BBC.

People had the feeling they were paying for a crisis they were not responsible for, he added.

But earlier in the week, French Finance Minister Eric Woerth condemned the strike organisers, accusing them of scare-mongering during a time of economic uncertainty.

"There are other ways to make oneself heard than striking," he said.

"Blocking a country, preventing transport from working, bothering people when they are still extraordinarily worried and fearful of the future, is adding fear on top of fear, worry on top of worry."

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/01/29 14:23:07 GMT

France's 'Black Thursday' not as bad as feared

PARIS, (AFP) - - Strikes delayed French commuter traffic but, initially at least, the promised "Black Thursday" protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's government was less dramatic than expected.

A third of flights out of Paris' second airport Orly were cancelled, but remaining services from there and the larger Charles de Gaulle were delayed only by around half-and-hour, as much by thick fog as by the strike.

Inside the city, around three-quarters of Metro trains were running on the underground network, along with 85 percent of buses and all trams and airport shuttle services, management told AFP.

Arriving in Paris, most commuters were unperturbed by the disruption and many expressed support for the strikers.

"I'm tired and frozen after waiting half-an-hour on the platform," said 34-year-old secretary Sandrine Dermont as she got in to Saint Lazare station.

"But I'm prepared to accept that when it's a movement to defend our spending power and jobs. I'll join the street protests during my lunch break.

There was, as expected, more disruption on the RER commuter rail network bringing workers into the city. One branch line was fully closed and on others only one train in four or one in five was in service.

Nevertheless, this did not translate into more chaos on the roads.

Thousands of suburban commuters appeared to have either stayed at home, whether because they were on strike or just taking advantage of France's generous holiday entitlements.

There was a similar story in provincial cities. In Marseille the Metro was closed, but in Lille eight buses in 10 were working and in Bordeaux and Lyon trams and subways were operating at around half capacity.

The regional road transport agency said that at 8.00 am (0700 GMT) there was a total of 136 kilometres (85 miles) of tailbacks on roads into Paris, compared to the 150 kilometres seen during a normal rush hour.

National and regional train services were also disrupted, although again not as badly as had been expected. Rail firm SNCF predicted that 60 percent of highspeed TGV services would run, and 40 percent of regional trains.

Eurostar services to London and the Thalys to Belgium and the Netherlands and the Alleo to Germany were not expected to suffer delays, but the Lyria line to Switzerland was to run at between a third and a half capacity.

Aside from calling for a nationwide day of strike, France's unions have also called for large-scale street demonstrations for Thursday afternoon, to protest Sarkozy's response to the world economic crisis.

Faced with business failures and mounting unemployment, workers fear they will bear the brunt of a collapse they blame on greedy bankers and lax state regulation of market capitalism.

"We need to shout, because there is a major injustice in this crisis," said Francois Chereque, leader of the CFDT union, who accused Sarkozy of pushing through a pro-business reform agenda.

Sarkozy came to power in May 2007 promising to raise living standards and kickstart the economy but has been forced to set aside 360 billion euros (477 billion dollars) of state money to underwrite struggling banks.

The president has also announced a 26-billion-euro stimulus package for industry, but has pledged to press ahead with unpopular reforms to trim the public sector workforce and liberalise the labour market.

"I understand your difficulties," Sarkozy said earlier this week. "But I do not want to halt the drive toward reform."

France narrowly averted recession last year, but experts predict the economy will contract in 2009 for the first time since 1993.

The eurozone's second largest economy also crossed the symbolic threshold of two million jobless late last year and French unemployment is expected to continue rising.

French strike nationwide over economic crisis

Thu Jan 29, 2009 8:39am EST

PARIS (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of French workers staged a nationwide strike on Thursday to try to force President Nicolas Sarkozy and business leaders to do more to protect jobs and wages during the economic crisis.

The strike, in a country with a strong protest culture, aimed to highlight fears over growing unemployment, discontent over Sarkozy's reluctance to help consumers and resentment toward bankers blamed for the economic slump.

It was the first such protest linked to the slump in a major industrialized nation and was backed by the majority of French voters, according to opinion polls.

It did not however paralyze activity as past strikes in France have done. The "black Thursday" announced by media beforehand did not quite materialize.

One in three schoolteachers and one in four staffers at the post office and the electricity company EDF walked off the job, and participation was high in many parts of the public transport network with erratic train, tram and bus services.

The strike cut 11,000 megawatts in power capacity, unions said, but EDF said supplies to customers would not be disrupted.

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