French rail unions agree open-ended strike

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Open-ended strikes look likely to cripple France next week after major rail unions called Wednesday for prolonged action, joining other sectors in the bitter fight against pensions reform.

The four major unions representing employees at state rail company SNCF agreed to start striking on October 12, with the action renewable indefinitely by a daily vote.

"Unions have decided to give notice (of a strike) for 24-hour periods from October 12 at midnight," the CGT union's Gilbert Garrel told journalists.

Unions in several other sectors have promised action from the same date.

"Our government doesn't want to listen, we have to give the movement another dimension," Garrel said.

Demonstrators took to the streets during two days of protest in September and a third on October 2, and unions have named October 12 as the next big day of action, some of them upping the ante with talk of open-ended strikes.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon has repeatedly vowed his government will push on with the reform despite the protests, a key plank of President Nicolas Sarkozy's reform agenda as he eyes reelection in 2012.

Trade union leaders at the Paris public transport system RATP also called Monday for an open-ended strike from October 12.

Two French Mediterranean oil terminals are currently blocked by strikes, with more workers joining the 10-day stoppage on Wednesday. The movement has caused fuel shortages on Corsica.

That action is mainly in protest at port privatisation plans but dockers' unions are also criticising the pensions reform.

Critics say the plan to raise the standard retirement age from 60 to 62 to help rein in France's public deficit places an unfair burden on workers.

"This reform is too important... we will go all the way," the CGT's national leader Bernard Thibault said on Wednesday on radio station France Info.

© 2010 AFP

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