A tale of two strikes: work stops in France and UK

28th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 28, 2006 (AFP) - France has been earning its reputation as European capital of strikes and demonstrations in recent weeks, but on Tuesday it shared that dubious honor with London, where unions proclaimed the biggest labor stoppage since the general strike of 1926.

PARIS, March 28, 2006 (AFP) - France has been earning its reputation as European capital of strikes and demonstrations in recent weeks, but on Tuesday it shared that dubious honor with London, where unions proclaimed the biggest labor stoppage since the general strike of 1926.

On both sides of the Channel, the protests have erupted over what are seen as government attempts to remove entrenched rights.

French unions called a one-day stoppage to oppose a law that enables employers to dismiss workers under the age of 26 without cause within two years of their hiring.

Unions see the law as an assault on the labor code, which assures a high level of job security. But Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin defends the measure as a means of reducing the country's exceptionally high rate of youth unemployment.

In Britain, meanwhile, more than one million staff who work for local governments walked off the job, causing widespread disruption and leaving large parts of the country without public transport.

Unions there are protesting a plan by Prime Minister Tony Blair's government to abolish a rule that allows municipal and district workers to retire at 60 if their age and length of service add up to 85 years.

David Marsden, professor of industrial and labor relations at the London School of Economics, warned that Britain has lessons to learn from the weeks of strikes and protests on French streets.

"Sometimes there can be particularly striking events which trigger a change in the way people think about things and what people put up with for a long time in the past suddenly becomes something which is a burning issue," he said.

With millions of people demonstrating in French cities, Marsden said there was a similar risk that social issues could "boil over" in Britain, a country where unemployment has been sharply reduced by the adoption of free-market economic policies.

"This particular one probably wouldn't trigger a big wave of further strikes," Marsden said of the British pensions dispute. "But if you had another one and another one... it's the kind of thing, like a pan of milk, if you don't watch it, it could boil over."

The walkout by public workers obstructed a whole range of services, including schools, libraries and sports centers. British travelers also suffered major disruptions, including the cutting of the ferry link across the Mersey estuary, the closure of a railway system in the northeast and the halting of all public transport in northern Ireland.

Andrew Sugden, policy director of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said ordinary workers faced "transport havoc."

Commuter traffic in Paris slowed but was less affected than had been predicted. The capital's metro system operated at near-normal level, while bus services was disrupted and suburban train service was cut in half. Similar transport disruptions were reported in 75 other cities.

Germany also faced labor stoppages on Wednesday after the powerful IG Metall Union said it would launch the first of a series of nationwide strikes in support of a demand for wage increases of up to five percent for 3.4 million workers in a range of industries ranging from autos to semiconductors. In addition, public sector workers in Germany are in the eighth week of strikes for higher pay.

Neither Britain nor Germany, however, has witnessed the mass demonstrations and outbreaks of violence that have accompanied labor unrest in France.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article