1million walk out against French labour reform

Over one million French workers struck and demonstrated yesterday, October 4th against planned labour reforms by the Jacques Chirac’s government.

Widespread disruption was caused across public and private sectors, including on the trains, in aviation, the postal service, education and power. Workers took to the streets in nationwide protests in 150 cities, with 150,000 marchers reported in Paris, 100,000 in Marseille. In Paris, events took on a carnival atmosphere as determined strikers and sympathisers paraded to the Bastille with banners and balloons.

The action reflected widespread antipathy across large sectors of French society toward the reform plans of new Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. Unemployment, wage stagnation, diminishing job security and rising prices have all contributed to a combative mood among French society; strikers enjoyed the support of 72% of the French public.

Plans to amend the labour code to allow arbitrary sackings by small firms within the first 2 years of employment has drawn the fire of workers already troubled by rising insecurity of employment. The march in Grenoble was led by representatives of workers for computer firm Hewlett Packard, which surprisingly laid off 1,200 people last month despite the firm’s bumper profits.

Philippe du Pire, a transport worker marching in Paris said “we’re protesting over the insecurity of our jobs, over our salaries and because we’re generally fed up.”

Others protested the government’s commitment to the rich, “we have big social problems, and the choices made by this government favour the upper and middle classes not the poor”, said one teacher at an inner city school.

Union leaders have promised more actions should the government fail to come to an agreement.

Elsewhere, the direct action of workers for state ferry company SNCM forced the government to back away from plans to privatise the service. The dramatic ferry hijack by 36 Corsican sailors on September 27th caught international attention, with strikes at the ports of Ajaccio on the island, and in Marseille on the mainland ongoing. Protesters clashed with police on September 28th and again on October 1st; an angry demonstration ended when police fired tear gas at marchers descending on government buildings in Bastia, ferryworkers and local youth replying with stones and flares. Hours earlier, police evicted trade unionists who had blockaded the port for three days. The dispute represents the first time that national unions have taken unified action with the corsican nationalist federation in 15 years. The government has now shelved plans for outright privatisation, and is negotiating from a position of shared public and private ownership.

Jack Ray
Taken from http://www.jackray.co.uk