French commuters have been hard-hit by the transport strikes
Huge numbers of civil servants and students are expected to join striking transport workers as France enters a second week of industrial action. Postal workers, teachers, air traffic controllers and hospital staff around the country are preparing to protest against planned pay and job cuts. Students are also upset over plans to grant universities more autonomy.
The combined protests are the latest challenge to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to reform the economy. Transport workers are beginning the seventh day of an indefinite strike in protest at planned pension cuts. And many of the latest strikers oppose government plans to not replace half of civil servants as they retire.
The government will not be able to budge on the principles Francois FillonFrench PM Strike fever hits France
Students, some of whom have been blocking buildings at dozens of campuses across France in the past week, are now protesting over plans to allow universities more autonomy to find non-government funding.
The latest one-day walkout was planned separately from the ongoing transport workers’ strike. That was triggered by plans to scrap “special” pensions privileges enjoyed by 500,000 workers, mainly in the rail and energy sectors, as well as by 1.1 million pensioners.
Tough times On Monday the transport unions voted to extend the walkout, though the number of strikers has reportedly been dropping since the strike began last Tuesday.
‘SPECIAL’ PENSIONS SYSTEM Benefits 1.6m workers, including 1.1m retireesApplies in 16 sectors, of which rail and utilities employees make up 360,000 peopleAccount for 6% of total state pension paymentsShortfall costs state 5bn euros (£3.5bn; $6.9bn) a yearSome workers can retire on full pensions aged 50Awarded to Paris Opera House workers in 1698 by Louis XIV In pictures: French strikes Can street protests succeed? Solidarity amid French crisis
Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said the job action was costing France at least $440m (£215m) a day. However, half of the country’s high-speed TGV trains are expected to operate on Tuesday, said national rail operator SNCF. Eurostar trains between Paris and London have not been affected.
But commuter trains, metro and bus services in Paris are all expected to be heavily reduced. Despite the vote by transport unions to extend their strike, there has been some movement towards negotiations. Unions have agreed to attend negotiations with the state rail company management on Wednesday.
Some are upset over plans to grant universities more autonomy
The government has somewhat relaxed its earlier stance that it would not enter talks unless strikers return to work. On Monday Prime Minister Francois Fillon said rail traffic must “progressively restart” for talks to take place. But he remained firm on the government’s commitment to overhaul the French economy.
“The government will not be able to budge on the principles because it has a mandate to move this reform forward,” Mr Fillon said. Opinion polls have so far suggested that there is broad support for Mr Sarkozy, who says France can no longer afford to let some public sector employees retire on a full pension as early as 50.
* BBC World, Nov. 2007