French unions vow to hold major strike Tuesday to slow air, train and commuter lines
PARIS – French students and unions insisted Sunday they will go ahead with a one-day national strike and more street protests unless the government withdraws a youth labor law that has sparked violent demonstrations and shut down universities.The strike Tuesday is expected to leave some air travelers stranded, disrupt train traffic and slow subway travel in Paris and the provinces. Union leaders said they would meet Wednesday to decide on the next step, and one threatened to extend the strike.”If there is not a positive response from the government Tuesday night, we will continue the movement,” Jean-Claude Mailly of the Workers Force union told The Associated Press.The National Student Coordination, a loose grouping of university students, urged a big turnout for the strike and demanded the conservative government’s resignation. Meeting in Aix-en-Provence, they also threatened to continue protests by blocking roads and railways Thursday.The disputed new law lets companies dismiss workers under 26 without cause during their first two years on the job – a loosening of strong job protections that the government hopes will encourage employers to hire more young workers and reduce high unemployment.Student groups argue the new rules will only lead to more job uncertainty for youths.About 200 demonstrations are planned across the country Tuesday, with the largest winding through Paris. The march will be the sixth in about two weeks in the capital, where some protests have blown up into clashes between stone-throwing youths and teargas-firing police.Most Air France unions plan to observe the strike. France’s civil aviation authority said some flights were likely to be canceled, though the exact scope of disruption was not yet clear.In Paris, only half of subway trains are expected to run, while the suburban RER commuter lines will face greater disruptions, the RATP transport authority said. The national rail network, SNCF, said two of every three trains were expected to run on main routes.Though some universities and high schools have already been disrupted or completely shut down, more schools will close Tuesday during a teachers strike. On Sunday, about 200 students demonstrated in front of Paris City Hall, urging an end to the strike because they are frustrated about missing class.Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie urged dialogue Sunday, saying the conflict needs to be solved quickly. She implicitly ruled out withdrawing the legislation, however, saying that “the law and parliament members must be respected.””If there are misconceptions, we have to clear them up,” she said on Europe-1 radio. “If there are real problems, we also have to talk about them.”Unions and the major student groups insist no dialogue is possible until the government cancels the law.Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin says the law will dent a 22 percent youth unemployment rate widely blamed for stoking urban riots last fall. The rate soars to 50 percent in some of the troubled suburbs where the November unrest took root.The prime minister, considered a likely presidential contender in the 2007 election, has been portrayed by the left as intransigent. In an interview with Radio-J, Socialist lawmaker Jack Lang compared him to “a child who refuses to let go of his favorite toy.”
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