Strike shuts down France's Louvre museum

4th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

Strikers blocked the entrance to the Louvre, turning tourists away as Wednesday's strike in other venues spread to one of the capital's biggest attractions, whose art masterpieces draw eight million visitors a year.

Paris -- Striking staff shut down the Louvre museum and other big French tourist sites on Thursday, cranking up their fight against public sector job cuts just as Paris prepares for the Christmas holiday season.

Strikers blocked the entrance to the Louvre, turning tourists away as Wednesday's strike in other venues spread to one of the capital's biggest attractions, whose art masterpieces draw eight million visitors a year.

The spectacular Chateau de Versailles west of Paris was also closed for lack of staff during the strike, a spokesman said.

Other sites including the Musee d'Orsay of impressionist art and the Arc de Triomphe war monument began strikes on Wednesday.

Called last week by all seven unions representing culture ministry employees, the open-ended strike is to protest government plans to drastically trim the civil service by replacing only half of all retiring employees.

Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand met with union leaders late Wednesday, but there was no breakthrough and Mitterrand said the planned job cuts would go ahead.

"This reform is being enacted by a government that was duly elected. This reform will be implemented," he told France 2 television.

The Louvre had managed to stay open on Wednesday, offering half-price tickets, but the scores of visitors turning up there on Thursday found themselves shut out in the rain.

Katie Rowe, a 20-year-old student from Arkansas, complained of missing her chance to see the Mona Lisa and other artworks as she stood with her friends outside the Louvre's landmark glass pyramid.

"We were planning to stay all day here and at the Musee D'Orsay," she told AFP. "This was pretty much our last chance. I don't know what we'll do now."

Ranma Mo and her boyfriend Gavin Lam came from Guangzhou province in southern China on their first trip to Paris wanting to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo but had to leave on Thursday unfulfilled.

"There are some great paintings inside, some masterpieces," but the couple missed them, Lam said. "Some people come a long way -- if people are striking, surely they'll be disappointed."

The Louvre's directors told AFP that picket lines at the museum's entrance caused the museum to be closed to the public but insisted that hundreds of staff did turn up to work who could have made the museum run normally.

In Paris, visitors also found themselves locked out of the Rodin museum and the Gustave Moreau museum, while some chateaux outside Paris were also shut down, including Azay-Le-Rideau in the Loire Valley.

Another major art venue, the Pompidou Centre of modern art in Paris, has been shut since staff walked off the job on November 23.

Unions argue the plan to slash state payrolls by replacing only one out of every two retiring civil servants will severely undermine services at museums.

"How are we supposed to reconcile the desire to ensure Paris attracts more tourists with the reality that there will be fewer resources allowing the city of lights to stand out from the other capitals?" said Joseph Thouvenel from the CFTC union at the Pompidou Centre.

France is the world's top tourism destination, drawing tens of millions of foreign visitors every year.

Roland Lloyd Parry/AFP/Expatica

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