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Strikes Disrupt France
By Theda Braddock, Correspondent in
Posted October 20, 2007


     Strikes in France are not unusual, particularly when it comes to RATP or SNCF, the two entities which run transportation.  This week was nothing compared to 1995’s three week long strike (at least so far) but union workers are still prepared to fight. 

     In September, President Nicolas Sarkozy, in following up campaign promises to make strong reforms, passed a bill extending the required years union workers had to work before retiring. Decades ago when it was decided that these employees could retire as early as 50 the conditions were rough. Daily work was exhausting and life spans were short. But, in the interval years the environment has changed and today the jobs are easier, or at least less demanding, Sarkozy argued. 

     France is renowned for having low retirement ages and an infamous 35 hour work week but with a new president concentrated on making economic and consumer reform, this is starting to change in a way workers are not prepared to accept. 

    The CGT, France’s largest union, is particularly vocal about their disagreements with the transformation and members are prepared to negotiate to have their demands fulfilled. Saturday will be the final of the Rugby World Cub, held at the Stade de France north of Paris and if the strike continues there will be a herd of angry fans. The strike continued into a second day Friday but is expected to end as more lines and trains slowly start increasing. 

   Thursday there were few metro and tram lines open, and intercity trains were, at best, scarce. In July the city of Paris started the new Ve’lib system, already present in selected French cities.  The success was immediate as Parisians flocked to stations where they could pick up bicycles at low costs and return them at any number of other stations parked throughout the city.  This new system offered up relief for workers-the previous record which was established during one particularly agreeable weekend in late August was beaten with 135,000 bicycles counted as being rented by the end of Thursday. 

  As museums closed and a record 73.5 percent of the SNCF, 52.8 percent of RATP as well as a good portion of EDF-GDF employees went on strike, others struggled to work, carpooling, walking, biking, skating or even skateboarding.  The near future looks promising as traffic is expected to pick up but only time will tell how negotiations carry out.


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