Expatica news

Louvre, Versailles face closure by striking French workers

Paris — The Louvre, the world’s most visited museum, the chateau of Versailles and a host of other top French tourist sites could shut next week due to strike action over planned job cuts, unions warned last week.

A strike has already shut down the landmark Pompidou modern art centre, and unions are now calling for workers in museums, monuments and cultural sites nationwide to down tools from next Wednesday.

Strikers want President Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing government to scrap plans to slash state payrolls by replacing only one out of every two retiring civil servants and reducing cultural subsidies.

Unions say museums — which draw in millions of French and foreign visitors every year and can expect to be busy as the Christmas shopping season brings day trippers to the capital — will be crippled by the cuts.

"There will be staff meetings in every establishment on December 2 … and the personnel will decide whether or not to go on strike," Kamal Hesni of the CFDT union told AFP.

"All the major establishments are concerned — Versailles, the Louvre, the national library, the Pantheon, Notre Dame, the ramparts of Carcassonne, Mont Saint Michel," he said, adding that the Eiffel Tower would not be affected.

Sarkozy’s reforms are scheduled to affect all state-run cultural establishments — museums, libraries, theatres and galleries — as well as the culture ministry’s administrative services from next year.

The Museum of Decorative Arts, which is housed in the same complex as the Louvre, was closed this week by workers striking about pay and working conditions.

But the strike at the Pompidou centre, whose 5.5 million visitors last year made it the fifth most popular attraction in Paris, is the first major protest action against the planned job cuts.

Staff and security guards walked off the job on Monday and, after meeting with aides to Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand the next day, they decided against going back to work.

"The culture ministry is not moving. It’s refusing to enter into negotiations," said a CGT union representative at the centre.

Staff fear 400 of the 1,100 jobs at the centre, known to Parisians as Beaubourg, will be cut over the next 10 years under the plan, which was a campaign pledge by Sarkozy in his 2007 election.

More than 40 percent of staff at the Pompidou Centre are over the age of 50. The legal retirement age in France is 70.

Named after the late president George Pompidou, the centre in the heart of Paris houses Europe’s leading collection of modern art, a public library, a centre for music research, bookshops, performance halls, a restaurant and cafe.

The centre’s modern design caused a sensation when it opened 30 years ago and helped to turn it into one of Paris’ top attractions.

The CFDT’s Hesni said that around 25,000 workers across the country will be taking part in next week’s strike meetings.

The CFDT and six other unions representing culture ministry workers gave their strike notice late Thursday.

"No to job cuts, no to reducing subsidies for public establishments, no to the financial disengagement of the state, no to budget restrictions," they said in a joint statement.