Widespread strike action may hit France

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

France's two largest trade unions have called for a general strike on Thursday.

The Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (French Democratic Confederation of Labour) and the Confédération générale du travail (General Confederation of Labour), along with six other labour groups, have called upon French workers to stop work on January 29 and take to the streets to protest the handling of the economic downturn by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

The strike call is aimed at both the private and the public sectors. It would affect public services like hospitals, schools, mail, Air France, rail company SNCF and national broadcasting, as well as private sectors such as banks, supermarkets and the stock exchange. A poll found 70% of the French public sympathise with or are in support of the action.

The unions fear job losses and wage cuts as France tips into recession following the credit crunch. They are against the President's plans to loosen restrictions on the length of the working week, which currently stands at a legal maximum of 35 hours, and on Sunday trading. The unions oppose allowing 30,000 public sector jobs to go by natural wastage. The European Union expects the unemployment rate in France to reach 10.6% next year.

In the National Assembly, the opposition Socialists have proposed a vote of no confidence in Sarkozy's right-of-centre government. The Assembly will debate the motion today, however Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement party has a majority in the Assembly so he is expected to win.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Germany, the national railway network is expected to be disrupted after the two main rail unions, Transnet and the GDBA, called for strike action against Deutsche Bahn as part of a campaign for greater flexibility in worknig and a 10% pay increase. Deutsche Bahn has offered 1%.