French May Day party soured by lost bank holiday

2nd May 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 1 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of French workers marched Sunday in May Day rallies focused on job safety, better pay and the return of a cancelled bank holiday, but opponents of the EU constitution also took centre stage.

PARIS, May 1 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of French workers marched Sunday in May Day rallies focused on job safety, better pay and the return of a cancelled bank holiday, but opponents of the EU constitution also took centre stage.  

Four major marches took place in Paris, reflecting the inability of trade unions to overcome their disparate opinions on the European constitution, the divisive subject of a May 29 referendum, to join forces on Labour Day.  

UNSA chief Alain Olive, a constitution supporter, said debate over the landmark EU treaty had not hijacked the traditional May Day demonstrations.   But in the southern port of Marseille, many of the 2,000 protestors carried signs with slogans like "No to Europe" and "I'm voting no on May 29".  

In the south-western city of Bordeaux, some 3,500 demonstrators took to the streets, with signs reading "I like Europe but I'm voting no".  

Communist leader Marie-George Buffet and prominent Socialists Henri Emmanuelli and Jean-Luc Melenchon - all in the 'no' camp - joined the Paris marches.  

CFDT leader Francois Chereque, taking part in a May Day meeting in southwest France, reaffirmed his support for the constitution, aimed at simplifying decision-making in the expanded European Union.  

Despite differences over the constitution, workers of all stripes denounced the centre-right government's unpopular decision to turn Pentecost Monday (May 16) into a normal working day in order to raise funds for the elderly and handicapped.  

"Don't touch my day off," read a banner carried by workers at the head of a 2,500-strong cortege from the Christian CFTC union, while 200 members of Force Ouvriere demanded, "Increase salaries, not working hours".  

"Sixty-five percent of French people don't want to work on Pentecost Monday. The bank holiday is a time for social interaction and celebration," CFTC president Jacques Voisin told AFP.  

Last year, President Jacques Chirac's administration pushed through a law that abolished Pentecost Monday in order to produce an extra EUR 2 billion (USD 2.6 billion) for the so-called "national solidarity fund".  

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin gave no ground last week, saying: "The day of solidarity is a call to brotherhood among all French people. It's an act of generosity by French society for itself, for its future."  

But workers have cried foul, saying they are in essence being asked to work a day for free, and trade unions have called for massive strikes on Pentecost Monday, which this year falls on May 16.  

The Pentecost protests would fall just two weeks before the referendum on the EU constitution, and officials fear the demonstrations would fuel opposition to the landmark treaty.  

Chirac, participating in a traditional May Day lily-of-the-valley ceremony at his Elysee palace, used the opportunity to again urge voters to approve the landmark text, saying closer economic ties within the EU would benefit all.  

After a string of opinion polls showing the 'no' camp in front, a survey released Saturday indicated for the first time that French voters would approve the treaty with 52 percent of the vote.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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