France was brought to a halt yesterday as over a million state employees went on strike, joining a week-long stoppage by transport workers.
Teachers, postal staff, nurses, air-traffic controllers, tax officials and other civil servants staged a one-day protest to demand pay rises and an end to government plans to trim the state pay-roll.
Unions representing 5.2 million state employees say their spending power has fallen by six per cent since 2000.
They also oppose plans to axe 23,000 jobs in 2008, half in education.
Yesterday’s strike left more than half the country’s schools closed, hospitals were providing a minimum service and newsagents were without newspapers, as the CGT trade union section for books and papers struck against a ‘restructuring’ of the trade.
The Paris-based distribution company, NMPP wants to eliminate 350 out of 1,200 jobs across all grades.
In addition, protesting students disrupted classes in half of the country’s 85 universities, in their campaign against a law giving faculties the right to raise money from private companies.
Rail traffic remained disrupted, with less than half of TGV fast trains running.
In Paris only one metro train in four was in service, and once again massive traffic jams built up on roads into the city.
The capital’s two airports reported average flight delays of around 40 minutes.
The government has dropped its demand that the strike ends before talks with the unions can get underway and instead says there should be simply a ‘back-to-work dynamic’.
After meeting last Sunday, the unions of the SNCF announced that they would be negotiating with the management of the company in the presence of a government representative today.
There was not long to wait before we were told that the same would be happening with the unions and management of the Paris urban transport system, RATP.
The presence of a government official was one of the demands that the union leaderships made as a precondition for entering talks.
The desperate rush of the union leaders to hold hands with the employers and government is in total contrast to the mood of their striking members whose determination to defend their pensions is hardening.
The CGT leadership’s stance, in pushing the talks move, is seen as weakening the struggle and is violently criticised at the mass meetings which daily vote to continue the strikes.
Instead of talks, growing demands are made for the pensions struggle to link up with the public service workers, students and all those under attack, in what is an anathema to the reformists – political strike action against the Sarkozy government.
To try and develop wind-up momentum for the strikes, the talk in government circles and the media is along the lines of ‘a first step’, ‘the dynamics of a turnaround’ and the ‘progressive arrest of the movement’.
But with the prime minister hardening the tone, on Monday saying, ‘The government will not cede on its reform principles’ – thousands of workers see no point in talking to it.
This is causing the Stalinists to redouble their efforts to organise a sell-out as is evidenced in yesterday’s edition of their paper l’Humanité where the masses taking part in the public service workers’ strike are told what a great breach has been opened in the government’s plans by forcing it provide representatives to sit in on today’s talks.