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France

Low turnout for nationwide rail strike

©

Video by Luke SHRAGO

Latest update : 2009-05-26

Nationwide strikes by railworkers on Tuesday attracted a lower turnout than previous protests against Nicolas Sarkozy's government, accused of not doing enough to save jobs and defend wages. Unions say 27 percent of workers participated.

AFP - French train services were disrupted Tuesday by striking workers taking part in a national day of protest as hundreds of job cuts were announced in factories hit by the recession.

France's eight main unions had called for a low-key "day of decentralised action" that saw far fewer people take to the streets than in three previous days of protest this year.

A strike at state rail operator SNCF was the most prominent action of the day, leading to the cancellation of half of all regional trains and one in four high-speed TGV services.



The unions are demanding that President Nicolas Sarkozy's government enact stronger measures to cushion the blow from the global downturn that has plunged France into recession and sent unemployment soaring.

In the latest round of bad news, US-based Goodyear-Dunlop Tyres announced it was slashing 817 jobs in its factory in Amiens, a city in economically depressed northern France.

The factory that employs 1,400 people had already been bracing for 402 job losses this year, but management announced deeper cuts due to the dramatic slowdown in the car industry.

The Swiss-Swedish engineering group ABB said separately it was scrapping 540 jobs at half a dozen facilities in France, union sources said, adding that the cuts would affect 20 percent of the company's French work force.

The electronics firm Altis Semiconductor plans to lay off 400 workers at its Paris area plant that employs 1,500 people, union officials said.

Across France, union activists were out distributing leaflets, holding marches and also enjoying barbecues and picnics.

Several thousand people turned out for a protest in the southern city of Marseille, carrying banners that read "Let's unite so that we don't have to foot the bill for the crisis."

Laid-off workers from a glass factory owned by US firm Owens-Illinois Manufacturing led a march in the northern city of Reims.

"The goal is not to make this initiative highly visible, but to ensure that the movement takes root and expands," said Maryse Dumas from the CGT union, France's biggest.

After union-led demonstrations drew more than one million people in the streets in January, Sarkozy boosted some social security benefits to defuse criticism that he was helping banks and carmakers more than workers.

But the French president has refused to back down from his plan to abolish tens of thousands of public sector jobs and has repeatedly rejected union calls for an increase in the minimum wage.

Union leaders say the real show of force will come on June 13 when mass marches are planned.

About 20 percent of rail workers walked off the job, according to the SNCF, but the unions put the figure higher at 27 percent.

The rail strike took place as US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, on a fact-finding mission to Europe, toured a TGV train at a Paris train station and declared that it was "terrific".

The US administration is looking at setting up a network of high-speed trains that could be modeled after France's TGV service.

Date created : 2009-05-26

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