Huge turnout for ‘Black Thursday’ of strikes

French workers staged a one-day strike and took to the streets on Thursday to protest the government's handling of the economic crisis, causing major disruptions to public transportation and education. Photo: T. Lieurade


Do strikes go unnoticed? FRANCE 24 Observers share their views and photos of the demos


President Nicolas Sarkozy once joked that French workers went on strike so often “no one even noticed.” He’s not saying that any more. On Thursday, France entered a state of virtual paralysis as over 1.4 million people went on strike and joined mass demonstrations throughout France, the French CGT trade union said. In Paris, 300.000 workers and students marched through the capital, according to the union, compared to 65.000 according to the police.


Reporting from the protests in Paris, FRANCE 24’s Nadia Chabit says that bankers or private sector nurses took to the streets to condemn the French president’s handling of the economic crisis. “The private sector is also involved this time, and normally trade unions find it hard to rally this sector,” she says.


“When eight unions, representing many different professional fields, go on strike, it means something," said Ian Brossat, President of the Paris Council’s communist group, in FRANCE 24’s Debate. “The relevant question is: why does a large segment of the population support the strikes?” Polls show that 69% of the French understand the protesters' discontent.


According to the Ministry of Education, one in three teachers went on strike, protesting the government’s plan to cut 13,500 jobs in education this year. The SNCF state rail company estimates that around 36.7% of its employees were on strike this morning. In total, hundreds of thousands of workers from the public and private sector hit the streets to demand protection from layoffs, a boost to low wages and an end to public sector cutbacks.





Disrupted transportation systems


Millions of commuters encountered long delays on their way to work, with rail and metro services pared down to the minimum. Between 50 and 100 percent of inter-city TGV trains to or from Paris were running, but there was none from region to region. Local train services were severely disrupted.


The RER network linking Paris to its suburbs was badly hit, with only one in five trains running on one major line and 35 percent running on the line to Charles de Gaulle airport. There were also disruptions on most lines of the Paris metro. Transport in other major cities was also affected.

Traffic jams are not as bad as feared on Thursday morning: a 136 kilometer slowdown was reported at 8h30 am on major roads, less than the 180 kilometer jam from last November’s strikes.


Air France traffic is moderately affected by the strike, with 30% of incoming and outgoing flights cancelled at Orly airport, and 10% at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport.


Mass protests

Parents scrambled to find baby-sitting solutions as most schools announced yet again that they would not meet the government requirement to supervise children with 33% of teachers on strike. Public daycare centers also had limited staff.


According to the CGT, French workers marched in half of France main cities to call on Sarkozy's right-wing government to take action to protect jobs and the social security net from the economic downturn.


"We're just asking that the money that has been handed out to companies, to revive the economy, be redistributed among workers, and not used to guarantee shareholder's dividends", explains Daniel Chalier, a union activist from Clermond-Ferrand.


However, government members and union leaders alike agree that, beyond the protests, long-term solutions need to be adopted, and fast. Although he didn’t specify how long the strikes would last nor whether there would be future protests planned, union leader Jean-Claude Mailly claimed that unions “weren’t planning to schedule a protest every week”.


“I don’t think the protests will change much since (French Prime Minister) François Fillon said that the government will go ahead with planned reforms, and President Nicolas Sarkozy said he doesn’t intend to change his policies,” Socialist opposition party spokesman Benoit Hamon told FRANCE 24. “Whenever people have expressed discontent, the government’s reflex is to silence them without answering to their concerns. The situation will remain deadlocked as long as that’s the case”.


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