France braces for national transport strike Tuesday

3rd October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 3 (AFP) - A one-day national strike is to cause widespread transport disruption in France Tuesday, with around half domestic rail and metro services cut and several flights affected, authorities said.

PARIS, Oct 3 (AFP) - A one-day national strike is to cause widespread transport disruption in France Tuesday, with around half domestic rail and metro services cut and several flights affected, authorities said.

The stoppage -- called by six unions to push for public sector pay rises and to protest government labour policies -- will have only limited impact on international travel to and from France, however.

All Eurostar trains between Paris and Brussels or London will be operating normally except the first to leave the French capital, which has been cancelled.

Air France said all its long-haul flights will take off as scheduled, with the brunt of the strike being felt on its domestic and, to a lesser extent, on its medium-haul services.

The state rail company SNCF said the train situation would be more dramatic, with the strike starting to bite from late Monday.

Only 60 percent of its TGV high-speed trains will be running, and only 40 percent of regular services. One train in three on the suburban lines serving Paris will be operating. Freight services will be cut in half.

The Paris metro and bus system will be reduced overall by 50 percent.

Road traffic was likely to be extremely dense as commuters took their cars, and major snarls were expected in the capital. Many motorways will be free of charge as toll staff stay away.

The strike was to be the first test of a new rule adopted in June by the STIF, a federation of public transport providers in the Paris area, which requires a minimum service on metro and regional rail lines during strikes. Previous stoppages all but paralysed the capital.

Hundreds of thousands are predicted at some 140 demonstrations across the country, as protesters demand pay increases, investment in public services, an end to privatisations, and the withdrawal of a new jobs contract that makes it easier for employers to hire and fire.

Widespread work stoppages are likely in the public sector, notably in national and local government, schools and post offices, but unions said many private businesses will also be hit as staff give vent to growing concerns over job security and the cost of living.

The five union federations that called the day of action were boosted by an opinion poll in L'Humanité newspaper -- which is close to the Communist party -- showing that 74 percent of the public have sympathy with their cause.

Another survey in Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper indicated that 57 percent have "confidence" in the union movement -- an increase of eight points from early last year.

The protests also received backing in a rare show of unity from the main parties of the left and far-left, which said in a statement that action was necessary "to break with the reactionary and ultra-liberal logic of the government".

The Socialist, Communist, Green and Communist Revolutionary League parties demanded the abrogation of a new jobs contract -- introduced recently by decree by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin -- as well as "measures to stop large scale redundancies and corporate relocalisations, and an end to bargain basement sell-offs of state companies."

The protests come at a sensitive time for de Villepin, who has been rocked onto the back foot by a crisis over the privatisation of the state-owned SNCM ferry company which serves Corsica and north Africa from ports on the Mediterranean coast.

Plans to sell off the heavily-indebted concern sparked days of violence in Corsica, a near-blockade of the island, and the shut-down of the country's largest port of Marseille. Though action was taken this weekend to re-open communications, the situation remains highly volatile.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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