Thousands of French postal workers strike
La Poste’s staff holds a one-day protest against the proposed liberalisation of French postal services.24 September 2008
PARIS -- French postal workers went on strike Tuesday to protest plans for the partial privatisation of a state service seen by many as one of France's most prized institutions threatened by EU liberalisation.
Between 25 and 40 percent of La Poste's 300,000 staff walked off the job during the one-day protest -- with management claiming the smaller figure and the two main unions the larger.
Jean-Claude Mailly, leader of the Force Ouvriere union, said postal workers had sent "a clear message to the government" of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"Public services are not created to be profitable, but to be efficient", he insisted.
Unions warn that 12,000 post offices will be shut down across France and many jobs lost in a new plan that will open up all of Europe's mail services to competition by 2011.
The battle has symbolic importance in France, where the post office is considered -- along with the town hall and local church – an established part of every community, even in the most remote rural areas.
"The post office is part of our heritage", said Jacques Voisin, president of the CFTC union, during a Paris protest that drew about 3,000 people.
"Post officers are part of our daily lives and it is a true public service that must be protected".
A state-run monopoly, La Poste offers mail delivery, courrier services and runs a savings bank.
According to the communist daily L'Humanite, 61 percent of the French are against changing La Poste.
From the right, French ultra-conservative Philippe de Villiers called for opposition to the proposal, saying it was a "plan decided by Brussels technocrats" who ignore the needs of smaller communities.
The leftist Liberation daily is in favour of holding a national referendum on the issue.
Postal services president Jean-Paul Bailly called for turning La Poste into a joint stock company in 2010 and opening it up to investors in 2011.
That would help it to meet the 2011 deadline set by the European Union to liberalise all postal services in the 27-nation bloc.
"Not to change would be risky", warned Bailly. "Major manoeuvres have already started and it is not conceivable that La Poste would not be part of that movement".
La Poste is hoping to raise between EUR 2.5 and 3.5 billion from investors although the French state would remain the majority shareholder.
About 30 percent of the state-run postal services could be sold, analysts say. La Poste is estimated to value at least EUR 10 billion.
Sarkozy set up a commission of trade unionists and elected officials to present recommendations about the future of the postal services by November.
"The government has not reached a decision and wants to hear all views", said Luc Chatel, the secretary of state for industry.
Finland, Sweden, Britain, the Netherlands and Germany already started to open up the postal service to competition.
[AFP / Celine Castella / Expatica]