French union threatens open-ended strike

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

The CGT was to issue a formal call Wednesday to other unions of employees at the state rail company SNCF to agree a prolonged strike, renewable by a daily vote, from October 12, its leader in the SNCF, Didier Le Reste, told AFP.

"The idea is to contribute to a powerful movement on October 12," when unions in several other sectors have already promised further action, he 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.

In past strikes, the powerful CGT's calls have usually been followed by other unions.

"If the government continues to be deaf and to force through its pensions reform, we will have to adapt our action," Le Reste said.

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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