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Unions call for new strikes to protest pension reform

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-10-22

French unions have called for fresh strikes on Oct. 28 and Nov. 6 in a bid to step up pressure on the government to withdraw its pension reform plan. The Senate is set to vote on the reform bill on Friday.

French unions have called for fresh strikes on October 28 and November 6 to pile pressure on the government to withdraw its plans to the overhaul the country's pension system.

The unions have been at the forefront of the largely peaceful campaign -- except for sporadic violence in Lyon and in the Paris suburb of Nanterre -- to prevent the government from unilaterally imposing the new law raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62.

“There is no reason at all to stop,” Bernard Thibault, leader of the powerful CGT union, told RMC Radio earlier in the day. “There is no other alternative while the government remains intransigent.

"We need to continue with massive action as soon as next week," he added. "We will ask the unions for strong action that will allow people to stop work and go on to the streets."

Unions have demonstrated an ability to mobilise a huge number of supporters and have the backing of some 70 percent of the population, according to polls conducted last week. Even students, fearing that pension reform will worsen already high youth unemployment in France, have turned out in large numbers to protest.

Several hundred secondary schools across the country and three dozen universities have been hit by the strikes.

"The government is trying to ruin all our prospects," 16-year-old Victor Colombani, president of the National Union of High School Students (UNL) and a pupil of the elite Henri IV high school, told FRANCE 24. "Extending the age of retirement means reducing almost a million jobs for young people. We call for a fairer reform that takes into account years of study and periods of forced unemployment for young people," he said.

One important precedent that continues to give the unions heart is the reversal of a 2006 law on work contracts (CPE) that would have given employers greater flexibility but left new employees with less job security.

But so far the government has refused to budge in the face of union demands.

Sarkozy insists that he will not back down and is determined to push through the controversial law as quickly as possible.

Senate under pressure

Meanwhile, the French government stepped up pressure on the upper house of parliament, the Senate, on Thursday to cut short voting procedures on more than 250 amendments to the pension reform bill in a bid to get it passed before the weekend.

Senators have been debating the bill for at least three weeks already.

"There have been rich exchanges, people have expressed themselves freely. It is not justifiable to add a further 50 hours of debate," said Labour Minister Eric Woerth on Thursday.

Criticising the "constant pressure from Sarkozy", French Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry called the government's decision to cut short the debate "scandalous".

Once the bill is passed, a cross-parliamentary committee made up of seven MPs and seven senators will be created in order to finalise the text.

This final text will be subject to a further vote in both houses – the National Assembly and the Senate – before the end of the month.

Economic impact

There are also real concerns about the impact of the strike on the already fragile French economy. France has only just emerged from recession, and the expense and cost of a strike could not have come at a worse time.

The strikes are beginning to hit tourism and cultural events ahead of half-term holidays beginning this weekend, with some travellers reconsidering their travel plans.

Blockades across the country have caused extreme fuel and electricity shortages.

Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins cancelled a debut tour with his band in Paris and pop diva Lady Gaga also postponed gigs fearing her tour trucks wouldn't make it to Paris.

Date created : 2010-10-21

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