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France

Thursday's strikes have huge popular backing, polls show

Latest update : 2009-03-18

Seventy-eight percent of French people support the nationwide strikes planned for March 19 in response to the worsening economic crisis and growing job losses, opinion polls show. Jan. 29's day of action brought 2.5 million people to the streets.

REUTERS - The vast majority of French people support nationwide protests set for March 19 to denounce the government's economic policies, according to two opinion polls published on Tuesday.

 

The surveys make grim reading for President Nicolas Sarkozy, who faces growing discontent over the gathering recession and fears that the social unrest might degenerate. Sarkozy offered a series of concessions after a first day of union action on Jan. 29 brought up to 2.5 million people on the streets, but labour leaders said they were dissatisfied by the measures and called for a second round of rallies on Thursday.

 

Some 78 percent of people support the movement, an IFOP poll for Paris Match magazine showed on Tuesday, with 53 percent of Sarkozy's own centre-right voters in favour.

 

A separate BVA poll for Les Echos newspaper said 74 percent of those questioned thought the day of action was justified.

 

Recent factory closures have fueled public anger, with German tyre manufacturer Continental announcing the closure of a plant in northern France at a cost of 1,120 jobs, while Japan's Sony said it was shedding 311 jobs in the southwest.

 

Underlining growing fury about the surging job losses, Sony workers locked up their company managers for one night last week to demand more redundancy money while Continental employees hurled eggs, fruit and insults at their bosses.

 

Adding to social tensions, a strike by lecturers, professors and students over a government reform of higher education has paralysed many French universities for weeks.

 
May 1968 revisited
 

Investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaine quoted Sarkozy on Tuesday as saying he feared a repeat of the May 1968 uprising, when rioters rocked Paris and strikers shut down France.

 

"Social issues often heat up in May," Sarkozy was quoted as saying, adding that expected a big turnout on Thursday. "It's normal. We are entering the toughest phase of the crisis."

 

Many analysts expect the French economy will contract by as much as 2 percent this year and the European Commission has forecast that unemployment will jump 25 percent to 9.8 percent.

 

The government has introduced a 26 billion euro ($34 billion) stimulus plan aimed at investment and after the January protests Sarkozy offered up to 2.65 billion euros of additional aid, primarily to help vulnerable households weather the storm.

 

Prime Minister Francois Fillon has said there will be no further concessions whatever happens on Thursday.

 

"Any additional aid means additional debt," Fillon said last Friday, adding that it would take time for the already-annouced measures to make the expected impact.

 

But unions are unlikely to give into this argument.

 

Earlier this year, Fillon refused to budge during a general strike on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, but after a six-week stand off the government finally caved in and met demands for a 200 euro hike in minimum monthly wages

 

 

Date created : 2009-03-18

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