Striking French public sector employees take to the streets
Hundreds of thousands of teachers, nurses, civil servants and other public workers marched in cities across France on Thursday during a one-day strike
PARIS, January 24, 2008 - Hundreds of thousands of teachers, nurses,
civil servants and other public workers marched in cities across France on
Thursday during a one-day strike against President Nicolas Sarkozy's reform
France's largest union, the CGT, said some 400,000 people had taken part in
marches nationwide, fewer than the 700,000 people who turned out for protests
Police put the figure for Thursday's nationwide protests at 217,500.
Seven of the eight unions representing the nation's 5.2 million state
employees had called for the one-day strike to protest job cuts and low wages
that they say are eroding purchasing power.
"Sarko, stop the shows, give us euros!" chanted protesters in the northern
city of Lille.
"We don't want Cecilia, we don't want Carla, we want spending power,"
chanted protesters in Paris.
Sarkozy's divorce from Cecilia and new romance with ex-model Carla Bruni
has been the target of much media attention over the past months, prompting
complaints that the president has been distracted from his political agenda.
In Paris, police said 17,000 people took part in protests, but the unions
put the figure much higher at 35,000.
Classes were cancelled in many schools and colleges after one in three
teachers stayed away, the education ministry said. Unions said around 53-55
percent of teachers had taken part in the strike.
Union officials said they were hoping to repeat the show of force of
November 20, when almost one-third of public employees walked off the job and
hundreds of thousands marched in the streets.
The strike call was heeded by some 20 percent of civil servants, said
budget and public service minister Eric Woerth.
The unions are protesting low wages and Sarkozy's plans to streamline the
public service by not replacing half of all retiring civil servants.
The education ministry will be the hardest hit by Sarkozy's plan, with
nearly half of the total 22,900 job cuts to come from the ranks of teachers
and school administrators.
In a move intended to address union demands, Woerth said the government was
ready to raise the index that serves as the basis for calculating salaries in
the civil service.
He also argued that job cuts over a year would generate one billion euros
(1.5 billion dollars) in savings for the state and that "500 million euros
will be redeployed for civil servants."
The midday news programme and an evening political talk-show on France 2
public television were cancelled due to the strike, with unions calling for a
reform plan for the state broadcaster to be scrapped.
There was no disruption however at airports in Paris and elsewhere in
France, the civil aviation office said. Airport officials said air traffic
controllers at Paris' two airports were not taking part.
Less than 10 percent of postal service employees were on strike, according
to management, but unions said one in five workers at the post offices had