French public and private sector workers took to the streets to protest government economic policies and rising job cuts. According to the latest French poll, more than 70 percent of the population supports Thursday's strikes.
An estimated 213 separate demonstrations take place on Thursday all over France, according to the CGT union, which also includes 18 more marches than there were on the previous general strike. French unions staged a massive movement on January 29, when 2.5 million demonstrators took to the streets.
"To say that the country is paralysed by this strike would be an exaggeration," said FRANCE 24 correspondent Richard Tompsett, reporting from Paris's Saint Lazare train station at 7:30 am this morning. He noted that so far there had been no train cancellations announced.
Tompsett also noted that there seems to be "growing solidarity" with the strikers in France. "One woman commuter I spoke to said that she felt even more sympathy with the strikers than during the previous 'black Thursday' in January", he explains, a clear sign of public discontent with the way that the government is handling a worsening economic crisis.
Labour unions called for strike action to protest ongoing restructuring and job cuts in the public and private sectors across the country. Initial estimates indicate that this strike has more participants in Paris and Marseille than on January 29.
Mobilisation in both the private and public sectors
In Paris, the procession of demonstrators left shortly after 2pm from the Place de la République to head toward Nation, east of the capital. Many sectors are affected by the movement, particularly public transport, schools, administrative offices, television and radio, and certain private companies.
Olivier Berges is a project manager for the director general of Aviva, an insurance company. Along with his colleagues, he demanded a 3% pay rise overall, and 100 euros per month added to the lowest salaries. He explained, “In our company, shareholders have been very spoiled. Employees have been neglected. There has been no general raise and the lower-paid workers are not satisfied. Our demands are quite reasonable, but they fell upon deaf ears. Our company directors, like may others, are petrified by the crisis.”
As for the public sector, their claims are largely similar. “We want to be heard!” declared Caroline Renard, a pharmacist’s assistant at the Gonesse hospital. She has demanded the repealing of the Bachelot law, so named after the health minister Roselyne Bachelot, which attempts to assign doctors to certain areas and makes other changes regarding hospital governance in general. “This is not the first time we’re demonstrating, we still have the same concerns – lack of staff, work overload, and more administrative work,” she said.
Public support for a nationwide public and private sector strike is so strong that former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé told FRANCE 24 on Thursday that the government would have to continue negotiating with unions.
"There is real anxiety (in France) at the moment, and that has to end in one way or another, by sitting down together and negociating," said Juppé, adding that he believed that talks would resume even though President Nicolas Sarkozy has voiced opposition to yet another 'social summit'.
"They may not be called a 'social summit', but obviously there will be more talks", said Juppé.
But the Elysée has excluded for the moment all additional gestures in favour of a 2.6 billion euro consumer stimulus package, announced on February 18.
The numbers don’t work out
For the eight French unions participating, the goal is to “raise awareness among the government and business about employment, salaries, and the public sector,” according to the website of the Force Ouvrière union.
The French Democratic Confederation of Workers (CFDT) recalls that the January 29 demonstration “allowed us to gather data,” especially that of the suppression of the two last income tax brackets for 6 million middle-income households, as well as a 500 euro supplement for the unemployed who had been working for between two and four months. But facing the economic crisis, “the figures don’t work out,” added the CFDT.
According to a poll conducted by BVA, BPI, France Info and Les Echos, at least 74 percent of the population supports the movement.
Date created : 2009-03-19