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France

French unions hail protests a success but govt says numbers are 'down'

Video by Yuka ROYER , Josh Vardey

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-10-03

Almost three million people joined protests across France to voice anger over changes to the retirement age according to trade union officials, while the French government put the figure at 900,000. Unions called on the government to "open dialogue".

AFP - French unions on Saturday brought millions of protestors onto the streets, they said, shunning strikes for rallies in their latest salvo against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pensions reform plan.
 
“Around 2.9 million” demonstrators have taken part, the CFDT union’s deputy leader Marcel Grignard told AFP, “roughly the same number” as during the last day of action against raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 on September 23.
 
“This is a successful mobilisation. We expect the government finally to pay attention to this popular expression and take action on its plan,” Grignard said.
 
But the interior ministry said that numbers were down, with 899,000 taking part in over 200 rallies around France, although in western cities such as Rennes heavy rain reduced the number of demonstrators.
 
“Everyone recognises this evening that the movement has got no bigger,” said government spokesman Luc Chatel.
 
The protests were the first to be held at the weekend after two days of weekday strike action in September that failed to bow the government.
 
The previous day of action ended in an argument over how many people took part: police said numbers were down from the previous September 7 protest at around one million, unions said they were up at three million.
 
In Paris on Saturday, unions said that 310,000 people took part, police said 63,000.
 
“The other days, we had to work,” said Stephnie Ouvry, who works in marketing, at the Paris rally with her four-year-old son Tom.
 
Her companion Aurelien Vairet said he felt “guilty not to have taken part in the previous demonstrations”.
 
Christiane, 36, said she came because “Saturdays are better as at least we don’t lose money”.
 
Indicative of the difficulty in establishing attendance, unions in the southern port of Marseille, locked down by a simultaneous dockers’ strike, said that 150,000 people demonstrated while police put the number at 19,000.
 
Support for the protests
 
Nevertheless, public support for the protests appeared to be growing, with an opinion poll in the communist L’Humanite daily on Saturday saying that 71 percent of French supported or sympathised with the action, while 12 percent were opposed.
 
After the last protests, Prime Minister Francois Fillon insisted that his government would push on with the controversial plan to raise the retirement age.
 
“Governing means listening to everyone. Governing means respecting everyone. But governing France also sometimes means being able to say ‘no’,” Fillon said.
 
Minister of Employment Eric Woerth on France 24
Faced with the possibility of swelling demonstrations, Secretary of State for Public Affairs Georges Tron said that a “major turnout” could be expected.
 
“It would make sense for there to be a larger turnout, given that people who do not work will decide to take part,” he told RTL radio.
 
Secretary of State for Public Affairs Georges Tron suggested some tweaks could be made to the bill, notably to make the retirement rules for women more lax, but that the core of the law had to remain unchanged in order to save the pension system.
 
Further strikes are on the cards
 
Unions have vowed to stage another day of strikes and demonstrations on Tuesday, October 12.
 
The pension reform bill has already been passed by the lower house of parliament and will be examined from October 5 by the upper house, where it is expected to pass easily.
 
Strike action against port labour reform as well as in solidarity with the anti-pension reform protests closed France’s main commercial ports Friday, hitting freight traffic.
 
Some cruise ships in the Mediterranean were also to change their routes and two terminals were affected, forcing rationing of diesel in Corsica.
 
“Most commercial ports are closed”, the government’s transport ministry told AFP.
 
The strike action will be renewed every weekend until “a timetable for negotiations has been fixed”, said the secretary general of the CGT union’s ports and docks branch, Tony Hautbois.

 

Date created : 2010-10-02

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