Strikes paralyse French ports
24 April 2008
MARSEILLE – France’s biggest port of Marseille ground to a halt on Wednesday as walkouts by port workers angry at privatisation plans sparked disruption across the country.
Cargo traffic was paralysed in the Mediterranean port, although passenger ferries were allowed to move in and out freely, as around 1,000 crane-drivers, signals operators and dockers formed a picket line on site.
"The port is not for sale," striking workers scrawled across a highway bridge nearby.
Protestors also blocked access to the Atlantic cargo terminals at Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Saint-Nazaire, and Le Havre and Rouen on the Channel, unions and port management said.
In Nantes, some 300 demonstrators blocked access to France’s biggest wood terminal with a barrage of breeze blocks and burning tyres.
All maintenance work was halted at Le Havre’s container terminals, though fuel tanker maintenance and car-ferry links to Britain were unaffected.
Maintenance terminals were also shut down in Bordeaux.
The CGT union called the 24-hour strike in protest at plans – examined by the French cabinet on Wednesday – to privatise some heavy machinery operations in line with dockers whose jobs went private in the 1990s.
Crane-drivers and signals operators have been on-and-off strike since last week at France’s cargo terminals, with the already-privatised dockers and other handling staff staging timed walkouts in support.
Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau defended the reform plans on French radio Wednesday, saying they aimed to revitalise France’s harbours and in the long term create 30,000 new jobs.
Industry leaders argue French ports have lost their competitive edge over the past 20 years because of a highly-unionised public work force.
The port reform bill, part two of a process started in 1992, is to go before the French parliament next month.
[AFP / Expatica]