French Strikes Disrupt Air and Rail Travel

Vatic Note:  Well, that makes Germany, France,  Spain, Greece and Italy that have demonstrated against the bankers running their countries and the world.  And yet,  France, just like the US has a dual Israeli citizen as their elected leaders, so Israel really runs those countries now, including the US.  That is obvious.  So where are the Americans in this game?  We have not showed up.  Well, maybe  its time France saved us for a change.   So, how do we keep these international bankers from nazifying the globe???  We have a global tax on the board to support their rule over us as dictators and we have the carbon tax, the health care reform tax,  and a tax or license fee on growing your own food, and collecting rainwater is now illegal (oops, I just collected 4 big bottles of rainwater,  me bad.  Come get me.  I confess.  LOL )   So, really, are you getting the big picture of what they have intended for us?  You will never make enough money to have a life and if you do, they will see that and take it from you.  ITS CALLED SLAVERY. 

French Strikes Disrupt Air and Rail Travel

By NICOLA CLARK, Published NY Times: October 12, 2010

PARIS — In the latest expression of discontent over government austerity moves across Europe, French transport and energy workers, teachers and civil servants took to the streets on Tuesday to protest plans to reform the country’s pension system — the third such strike here in just over a month.

The strikes in France follow waves of social unrest across the region in recent months, with protesters in Spain, Belgium, Greece and Ireland voicing their anger as governments seek to rein in exploding deficits that threaten to undermine their sovereign credit ratings, exacerbating national budget woes.

Union officials claimed a nationwide turnout of more than 3.5 million people, an increase of 20 percent from the previous strike on Sept. 23, while the French interior ministry put the figure closer to 1.23 million, up from just under a million in the last strike. In Paris, the police counted 89,000 protesters, up from 75,000 previously.

“The protest is not weakening, but we can’t be sure it will grow,” Éric Woerth, the labor minister who has spearheaded the new measures, told France 3 television. “The government’s determination is total.”

Several labor groups — including those representing the national rail and Paris public transport workers — voted Tuesday to extend their walkouts through Wednesday, and unions have also called for another day of demonstrations on Saturday, so the ultimate effects of the strikes remain unclear.

But analysts remained skeptical that rolling strikes would secure anything more than superficial changes to the proposed changes, which President Nicolas Sarkozy has made a cornerstone of his fiscal policy.

“Everyone admits that things can’t continue like this,” said François Vergne, a labor lawyer in the Paris office of the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. “Other countries have adapted their laws and there is a resigned consensus that retirement at 60 is no longer sustainable.”

Late Monday, the upper house of the legislature voted to raise the age of retirement with a full pension to 67 from 65, having already agreed to increase the minimum legal retirement age to 62 from 60. Senators from the opposition Socialist Party still hope to slow full adoption of the package through amendments.

Last month the lower house voted to raise the minimum pension age to 62.

Tourists visiting Paris on Tuesday found many of the city’s monuments and museums shuttered for at least part of the day, including the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Nôtre-Dame and the Musée d’Orsay. Several sites were not expected to re-open until Wednesday.

According to the national train operator S.N.C.F., intercity trains to Paris were running at only one-third of normal frequency, while rural services were more seriously disrupted. Just over 40 percent of rail workers took part, up marginally from the 37 percent who walked off the job during the last strike, on Sept. 23, the S.N.C.F. said.

The service was normal on the Eurostar trains to London, and trains to Belgium and Germany were running at two-thirds of normal schedules.

The R.E.R. commuter trains into Paris were running at under 50 percent, while there were also disruptions on the Paris subway and bus system.

Airports also reported significant disruption to flights as air traffic controllers and Air France staff joined the walkout. At Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais airports, 30 percent of flights were canceled, and about 50 percent at Orly. A vast majority of intercontinental flights were maintained as scheduled, however.

Unions at ports, refineries, the chemical industry and those representing civil servants, postal and communication workers and education also took part.

The marches across the country were largely peaceful. However, in the northern city of Caen, news reports said riot police officers had fired tear gas at protesters who had gathered to lob eggs, tomatoes and firecrackers at the local headquarters of the national business lobby, Medef. Garbage cans were also set ablaze.

While some of the more radical unions have urged unlimited general strikes, leaders of the main trades councils have sought to avoid the kind of prolonged action that has backfired with the public in the past. François Chérèque, secretary general of the Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens, has stressed that he has not called for general strikes, leaving it instead to workers to vote day-to-day at the union chapter level.

The go-softly approach appears to have bolstered public sympathy for the strikers. According to a poll conducted Monday by the IFOP polling institute and published Tuesday in France Soir, 53 percent of French surveyed said they “trusted the unions,” up sharply from 43 percent in a similar survey conducted in June. Forty-seven percent polled said they “did not trust trade unions,” down from 57 percent in June. The survey was conducted on Oct. 8 and 9, with 955 people aged 18 and over contacted by telephone.

“People have internalized the idea that pension reforms are necessary,” said Frédéric Dabi, director of opinion research at IFOP. “But there is clearly still the idea that the unions can help sway the balance.”

Faced with widespread anger, Mr. Sarkozy has offered some concessions — for example, last week he proposed softening the rules for women in their 50s who had earlier halted work to bring up at least three children, allowing them to receive full pensions at 65. The government said this would cost about $4.8 billion and would be financed by higher capital gains tax on property sales.

Unions have described the offer as insufficient and had hoped that the fresh action this week would force the government back to the bargaining table.

The French media have portrayed the current showdown over pension reform as a defining moment for Mr. Sarkozy that could decide his fate in presidential elections in 2012. Le Monde this week described it as a turning point. “Failure will sink him,” the newspaper wrote.  But some observers said that could be said of the country’s labor movement.

While France’s trade union leaders did manage to extract some “face-saving alterations” to the reform, the core aspect — pushing back the retirement age by two years — will probably not be affected by the protests, said Paul Vallet, a professor of history and political science at the Institut d’Études Politiques in Paris.

“In the end, even if people are marching, there is a broad resignation that this is going to happen anyway,” Mr. Vallet said.

The same could be seen in recent protests elsewhere on the Continent: When Spanish union leaders called for coordinated demonstrations throughout Europe at the end of last month, the result was little more than scattered unrest and protest.

Mr. Vallet argued that the French unions and the main opposition parties had erred strategically in seeking to turning the debate over pension reform into a mandate on Mr. Sarkozy’s presidency.

“Everyone’s sense of priorities in this confrontation have gotten dangerously mixed up and short-sighted,” Mr. Vallet said. “The risk for the unions after this is that they will be viewed as even more ineffective.”

In five years’ time, he said, France will still be faced with a significant budget deficit that will require further reforms to pensions and other social programs. By then, “the unions are probably going to be even less influential in shaping those new reforms, and people are going to be less convinced that the unions have any relevance on this issue.”

At 7.7 percent, the rate of trade union membership in France is second-lowest in the 30-member O.E.C.D., just above Turkey at 5.8 percent and well below the United States at 11.9 percent. But among public-sector employees — including transport workers and civil servants like teachers — the unions hold greater sway, with a membership more than twice as high.

“It is a paradoxical situation,” said Mr. Vergne, the labor lawyer. “It is a very small number, but this has been the case for a long time.”

Yet he was hesitant to say that France’s labor movement was in permanent decline. “The power relationship is being modified,” Mr. Vergne said. “We are in a period of transition.”  The pension reform debate, he noted, has managed to stir France’s youth — even some who are too young to vote.

On Tuesday, organizers said several thousand high-school and university students formed a procession on the Rue de Rennes in Paris, one of the largest youth turnouts so far. A national union of high school students said there were protests at roughly 400 campuses across the country, about 10 percent of the total.

“The entry of young people into the debate is interesting and significant,” Mr. Vergne said, though he conceded that it was too early to say whether high school students would remain politically engaged over the longer term.

“It is hard to know,” he said. “Protesting is kind of a national sport in France.”

The article is reproduced in accordance with Section 107 of title 17 of the Copyright Law of the United States relating to fair-use and is for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

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