French stage events hit by renewed protests

20th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 20 (AFP) - France's art workers, angry at cuts to their unemployment benefits, have resumed a campaign of strikes and disruptions that could threaten some of Europe's biggest festivals this year, notably the Cannes Film Festival and an international showcase of theatre at Avignon.

PARIS, April 20 (AFP) - France's art workers, angry at cuts to their unemployment benefits, have resumed a campaign of strikes and disruptions that could threaten some of Europe's biggest festivals this year, notably the Cannes Film Festival and an international showcase of theatre at Avignon.

Late Monday, 21 technicians organised a sudden stoppage just before France's top theatre awards ceremony, prompting jeers from the 1,900-strong audience in Paris.

The show went on, albeit without the use of microphones, after the audience refused to leave the Champs-Elysees theatre and presenters shouted out the list of winners. The event was not broadcast as had originally been planned.

"At the very least, the awards to these highly talented actors should be known," a TV personality who was one of the presenters, Michel Drucker, said.

The strike was designed to draw attention to anger among arts workers at government cuts to their unemployment benefits that came into effect in January.

It also raised the menace of disruption to other events in France, notably the Cannes Film Festival next month and the Avignon arts festival in July.

The latter was cancelled for the first time in its three-decade history last year when the arts workers started their campaign.

Union representatives and Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres met hours before the Moliere awards but the talks failed to produce a breakthrough and apparently set the scene for a test of wills that will worsen in the coming months.

A group of the workers has formed a committee aimed at "occupying" the May 12-23 Cannes Film Festival.

Such an act would attract worldwide attention given the number of international celebrities and the thousands of journalists who usually attend.

The festival is often the launching pad for some of the biggest blockbuster films of the year.

In a statement last Thursday, the group said: "The 2004 Cannes festival cannot go on as usual."

It called for the committee to look at ways to disrupt the event to publicise the workers' campaign.

The French government, which is under severe budgetary pressure because of a blown-out public deficit, introduced the cost-cutting changes to the showbusiness workers' unemployment system after years of widespread abuse.

The benefits previously allowed France's 100,000 industry employees to qualify for year-round unemployment pay-outs if they worked for just three months, leaving the fund to run at an annual deficit of some EUR 850 million (USD 1 billion).

The changes reduce the amount of benefits and the period in which they are received, while tightening requirements to qualify for them.

Le Figaro, a right-leaning newspaper sympathetic to President Jacques Chirac's government, noted that, if a rolling series of strikes scuttles France's long list of festivals, the arts workers would be unable to clock up the number of hours required to qualify for their benefits.

Cancellations could also prove "fatal" to some events, thus drying up venues which employ many of the workers, it said.
 
© AFP

                                                               Subject: French news

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