Mass strikes hit on Black Thursday

With strikes affecting many services, reports suggest commuters – striking or not – have stayed at home and disruption not as bad as predicted.

28 January 2009

THE national ‘Black Thursday’ strike under way today is not hitting transport as badly as predicted but is affecting many different sectors.

All education unions are calling for strikes and they expected 70% to be off work in primary schools and 50 – 60% in secondary. However the education ministry has given lower estimates of 40 - 45% and 30%.

There were widespread concerns that a “minimum service” – so children can go to school even if there are no ordinary lessons – was going to be difficult to organise in many areas. In Paris the mayor has urged parents to keep their children at home.

Civil servants in both national and local government, hospital workers, lawyers and courts officials, helicopter pilots, television, telecoms, postal, energy, ports, banking, car manufacturing, shop, ski resort and newspaper workers are also among those on strike.

In transport, the strikes have caused delays and cancellations, but in some cases not as bad as had been feared.

The body in charge of civil aviation, DGAC had said 70% of flights arriving in or leaving France would be cancelled today. However at Paris Charles de Gaulle only 10% of cancellations were announced and 30% at Orly. Remaining services at both are being affected by short delays.

In the Paris area about three-quarters of Metro trains are running, 85% of buses and all trams and airport shuttles.
On the RER commuter network into the city, one branch line was closed and on others only one train in four or five was in service.
However thousands of suburban commuters appeared to have stayed at home and jams on the roads into Paris this morning were said to be than in a normal rush hour.
Around the regions, in Marseille the Metro was closed, but in Lille eight buses in 10 were working and in Bordeaux and Lyon trams and subways were operating at around half capacity.
Rail firm SNCF predicted that 60% of highspeed TGV services would run, and 40% of regional trains.
Eurostar services to London and the Thalys to Belgium and the Netherlands and the Alleo to Germany were not expected to suffer delays, but the Lyria line to Switzerland was to run at between a third and a half capacity.
Apart from the strike, large-scale street demonstrations are expected. Each sector has its own grievances, but the strike is broadly a response to the economic crisis and rising unemployment.
According to an online poll by Le Figaro 71% of people do not understand the reasons for the strikes.
Social Affaires Minister Brice Hortefeux said: “The economic crisis affects every continent, but each country expresses its worries differently. In France it is traditional to organise demonstrations to express one’s anxiety. That is necessary and understandable.”
President Sarkozy is expected to make a television speech in response in coming weeks. He is said to be taking the matter seriously having boasted last summer that “no one notices strikes in France anymore”.
According to a source close to the president, both he and the unions are concerned that protests should be managed in an organised way, not allowed to descend into violence.
Contribuables Associés, a body that defends the rights of taxpayers, attacked the strikes, claiming they were being organised by unions that represented just 2% of workers in the private sector and 15% in the public one. Their militancy is “poisoning the life of the French,” they said.
Photo:Afp/jacques Demarthon

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