French transportation strike spreads to civil servants

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A near empty Gare du Nord in Paris as the strike continued on November 18, 2007.
Image: Gideon.

The labor strikes in France, which began on November 13, 2007, are continuing as hundreds of thousands of civil servants hold a 24-hour work stoppage. The action by postal workers, teachers, air traffic controllers and hospital staff, have left many schools closed and airports facing delays and flight cancellations.

The November 2007 strikes in France began when SNCF rail workers and Paris Métro engineers went on strike to protest reforms by President Nicolas Sarkozy, which would reduce early retirement pensions.

Under current regulations, civil servants in France may retire after 37.5 years of service. Some professions, primarily in the rail industry, have an accelerated schedule, allowing rail workers to retire as early as age 50 with full benefits. The government wants to change that saying that these special pensions apply to 1.6 million workers and amount to 6% of the governments total pension payments.

It's a real worry for the French economy.

—Christine Lagarde

The rail strike has, according to opinion polls, become quite unpopular. Speaking today, Sarkozy said "I am thinking about those millions of French people who after a day's work do not have a bus, a metro or a train to get home and who are tired of being held hostage. I am thinking of those companies that risk having to lay off workers."

The French finance minister Christine Lagarde estimated the strikes cost the economy of France 350 million each day. "It's a real worry for the French economy," she said. Public accounts minister Éric Wœrth spoke on France Inter radio and agreed that a prolonged strike would hurt the economy. "Not over several days. But if it lasted longer, it could obviously have consequences," he said.

The civil servants that began their 24-hour stoppage today are protesting what they say has been a de facto pay-cut. The purchasing power of their wages has dropped by 6% since 2000. They are demanding pay-raises and are protesting proposed job-cuts for 2008. The government has proposed to cut some 23,000 jobs, half of which would be in education.

The third work stoppage by French energy workers started last night, reducing electrical output by 9%. Newspaper distributors also went on strike, in protest of proposed restructuring. Students protested other reforms that would give universities greater autonomy. The students blocked access to buildings at campuses across the country.


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