France roiled by strikes against government’s economic and labor policies |

France roiled by strikes against government’s economic and labor policies

John Leicester

PARIS – Tens of thousands of French transportation workers and teachers held a nationwide strike on Tuesday to protest the government’s economic and labor policies, slowing the train and bus systems and closing schools throughout the country.Commuters were jammed into those trains and buses still running while many flights through Paris airports were canceled.Schools closed as almost 230,000 teachers stayed home, the Education Ministry said. So, too, did about 15 percent of postal workers, according to the mail service. Newspapers were not delivered in Paris.The national rail operator said all Paris stations were disrupted, with about two-thirds of morning trains from the suburbs canceled.Services were disrupted on all but one of Paris’ Metro lines. The subway system in Lyon, in the southeast, stopped completely. One in four morning rush hour buses and three in four trams were operating in southwestern Bordeaux, authorities there said.Many commuters at Paris’ Saint-Lazare station, arriving on packed trains from the suburbs, said despite the inconvenience they supported the one-day walkout to defend jobs, salaries and labor rights. Unions are especially angry about labor laws passed by the center-right government in August, which make it easier for small companies to hire and fire workers.”All of the rights that our ancestors took centuries to acquire are being squeezed,” said Jean Aubigny, a retail manager. “It causes bother but if there were no strikes, no rights, we would be finished.”But Florent Courtois, an engineer, fumed about being more than an hour late for work.”This happens too often. They don’t even know why they’re protesting with all the strikes they stage. Any excuse is valid,” Courtois said.Strikers organized demonstrations across France. The left-wing CGT union estimated their total number at more than 1 million, while police put the figure at 470,000 nationwide.The CGT said the march in Paris attracted 150,000 people. The police count was 30,000.In Corsica, where government plans to privatize an ailing state ferry operator that links the Mediterranean island and the French mainland have added to tensions, a group of about 100 protesters clashed with riot police. No injuries were reported.Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who has made a priority of bringing down France’s nearly 10 percent unemployment rate, told parliament, “I am listening to the message the French are sending us.””We want to reply to their worries, their aspirations. They want results and we are fighting for that,” he said.Rail, bus and tram services were affected to varying degrees nationwide, including the high-speed TGV train network.Aviation authorities announced the cancellation of more than 400 flights to and from Paris’ two main airports.A poll of 1,004 people conducted before the strike but released on Tuesday showed broad support for the protest. Seventy-two percent of respondents said it was justified and 62 percent disapproved of the economic policies of Villepin’s center-right government. The BVA agency said its poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.Vail, Colorado

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