A Stratfor analyst says Sarkozy is more popular at this point in his term of office than any French President since DeGaulle. He better be. The power of his presidency could be riding on the outcome. So far, the French public seems to be sympathetic to Sarkozy's call to increase the Transport Union workers retirement age from 50 years old. But, if these strikes continue for weeks on end, Sarkozy's government could fall, leaving him as a four year lame duck President.
French transport strike bites
Friday, October 19, 2007
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
French commuters struggled to work yesterday as public sector workers put President Nicolas Sarkozy's reform agenda to the test with a 24 hour strike in defense of pensions privileges.
With nearly three-quarters of railway staff joining the action, nationwide rail traffic was at a near standstill with just 46 TGV high-speed trains running out of the normal 700. The Paris metro and bus networks laid on only a skeleton service.
Police reported 165 kilometers (100 miles) of traffic jams on access roads into the capital - twice the normal amount. Many walked or rode bicycles to work.
Tourists found several Paris museums shut, including the Musee d'Orsay and most of the Louvre, while the Opera de Paris and Comedie Francaise theatre cancelled evening performances.
Striking electricity workers also cut off supply to La Lanterne, an official residence in the grounds of the palace of Versailles.
The strike came as France prepared to host Saturday's final of the Rugby World Cup, with tens of thousands of British and South African fans due in Paris. State rail operator SNCF assured supporters that Eurostar services will be normal from today.
Street demonstrations were being held in some 60 towns and cities, as trade unions try to force Sarkozy to drop plans to reform France's "special" pension systems enjoyed by 1.6 million rail, energy and other workers.
The president has begun moves to lengthen contribution periods for these workers from 37.5 years to 40, closer in line with other public and private sector employees. Currently some railway staff can retire on a full pension at the age of 50.
The protest movement is seen as the first major challenge to Sarkozy, who has promised a root-and-branch overhaul of the country's economy and society.
The last time a government tried to change the "special" pensions regimes was in 1995, when then prime minister Alain Juppe was forced into a humiliating climbdown by weeks of strikes and street protests.
But Sarkozy's government insists that conditions have moved on in the last 12 years and that most French people now accept the reform.
"We are ready to listen to the fears and anxieties and try to respond to them. But the increased contribution period is something on which we will not give way," said government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez.
But Bernard Thibault of the General Labor Confederation (CGT) said that the strikers had been forced to take action by the government's intransigence.
"The people who decided to go on strike did so because they had no choice. The government never created the conditions for dialogue, for negotiation, for setting out the future of their pensions," he said.
Unions were to meet Monday to decide on whether to stage more strikes.
Rail strikes hit Germany
BERLIN - Reuters
German commuters struggled with major disruptions for the second time in a week yesterday as train drivers struck again to back pay demands.
The drivers' union GDL began walkouts on regional services across Germany at 2 a.m. (midnight GMT), intensifying a dispute with rail operator Deutsche Bahn that has dragged on for months. The strike ended at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT).
As the morning rush hour got under way, only about half the regional and urban "S-Bahn" commuter trains were in service across the country, Deutsche Bahn passenger service chief Karl-Friedrich Rausch told reporters in Frankfurt.
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