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Unions call strike as protests continue across France

Despite ministers appealing for fewer protests this weekend after the Strasbourg shooting, workers union the CGT has called for “a big day of strike action”, in a move that is already affecting airline travel.

The strikes come in the wake of the Gilets Jaunes protests, and President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement of four key changes in response to protesters’ grievances.

For today (Friday December 14) and Tuesday December 18, unions called for strikes across several industries, including air traffic control, transport, and education. The call read: “We must act for an immediate increase in salaries, pensions and social protection.”

The unions the FSU, Solidaires, SUD and UNEF have also joined the movement.

The CGT has criticised President Macron’s measures to appease the Gilets Jaunes, calling this week’s speech “smoke and mirrors” that will change nothing when it comes to “austerity”.

Strikers are demanding an increase of the Smic (minimum wage) to €1,800 gross, in contrast to Mr Macron’s announcement of a faster increase in the prime d’activités for people on low incomes.

The union has also said it is aiming to channel the grievances of the Gilets Jaunes into its new action, “so that this anger transforms into a consequential movement that will allow us to demand and receive real social moves forward."

The strikes are already causing some disruption.

In Île-de-France, most public transport is running normally, except the RER B line, which has cancelled around a quarter of its services.

Across France, unionised teachers, assistants and even the students have been called to join the strike; canteens and receptions could be especially affected.

Air travel in Europe has also been affected, as air-traffic controllers plan to walk out until Saturday morning (December 15).

Controllers union USAC-CGT called on all of its members to strike, saying: “We have suffered continual downsizing for more than 10 years.”

Flights to and from Toulouse and Nice airports are likely to be especially affected, with passengers advised to check with their airline before travelling.

Meanwhile, it is not clear if the Gilets Jaunes protesters will mount a further “Act 5” protest in Paris and other cities this weekend.

While pressure has been mounting against the movement, multiple Facebook Groups organising the protests appear to be calling for further action this weekend, with commenters saying they “do not want to concede anything”.

A Facebook Group named “Acte 5 Gilets Jaunes à Paris” has 3,600 members, with 26,000 people having marked their interest.

Priscillia Ludosky, one of the leaders of the movement, wrote on her Facebook page: “One month ago, the government said ‘we are staying the course’. So today, it is our turn to reply: ‘We are staying the course’.”

In response to claims that the protests were a terrorist risk, and making it difficult for security forces to do their job safely, protesters have defended their right to peaceful protest.

Benjamin Cauchy, spokesperson for moderate group the “Gilets Jaunes libres”, said: “We were already against [violence] and people coming to smash things. But we must continue social dialogue via local elected leaders. We are here today because we must let the security forces do their job.”

Another spokesperson for the “Gilets Jaunes libres”, Christophe Chalençon, said that “Acte V” was still on track, but advised protesters to stay away from cities and towns.

He said it would be better to focus on “targeted action”, such as setting up roadblocks to slow traffic, and demonstrating on roundabouts and péages.

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