France Hit by 3rd National Strike In 12 Days

More than three million people took to the streets of France in protest at pension reforms, with distant echoes of May 1968 as students and schoolchildren swelled numbers to record highs. In the fourth such protest in a little over a month, unions estimated that 3,5 million people had taken to the streets against President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s pension bill – a 20 per cent rise from previous marches and what they called an “exceptional” figure.

“We have reached the limit of the concessions that are possible.”

François Fillon


French leaders have been notoriously wary of student protests ever since they sparked a two-week general strike in May 1968 that crippled the country and the government of President Charles de Gaulle.

Even the interior ministry conceded that turnout had reached a new high, although gave a more conservative figure of 1,230,000, compared to 997,000 on September 23, according to the UK Telegraph.

In a symbolic act, the Eiffel Tower was closed due to striking staff. The landmark was last closed due to industrial action in April.

“Sarko, you’re screwed, the young are on the streets,” chanted students in the southwestern town of Toulouse, as they joined protests en masse for the first time. Secondary school pupils also took part with classes disrupted in around 400 schools.

In 2006, students managed to force the government to withdraw a plan to introduce more flexible short-term work contracts for the young, after paralysing the country.

Mr Sarkozy has staked his credibility on pushing through the pension reform, which aims to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and from 65 to 67 for a full state pension.

The Senate has already approved these two key measures and will finish debating the entire bill by the end of the month.

 

Francois Fillon - Nicolas Sarkozy

 

But the Mr. Sarkozy is clearly nervous about the student threat.

His prime minister, François Fillon, slammed left-wingers for “bringing kids of 15 onto the streets” while his chief social adviser, Raymond Sobie, said: “Secondary school pupils and students should demonstrate to defend the reform as it is above all for them. Without it, they would be condemned to pay twice: for their own pension and that of their parents.”

Union resolve to see the law revoked was steeled by a threat of open-ended action.

Paris bus and metro unions have already called another 24-hour strike on Wednesday, along with union members from the state rail operator, SNCF and energy utilities.

Another day of mass protests has been set for Saturday and unions will meet on Wednesday to discuss their next move.

Besides students, unions said the protests included far more private sector workers than before.

France faced the prospect of fuel shortages as dockers at Marseille’s Fos-Lavera port headed for their third week of strikes, leaving dozens of petrol tankers unable to offload.

Eleven of France’s 12 mainland refineries were affected.

Air and rail transport was hit around the country but the metro was less affected and buses ran almost as usual.

Despite the record turnout and public support for the protests – some 69 per cent of French back it according to one poll – the government pledged to stand firm.

“We have reached the limit of the (concessions) that are possible,” Mr Fillon says.

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland reports from Marseille, France‘s main southern oil port, where dock workers have been on strike for two weeks:

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May Get Worse

It seems like the protests in France are taking on Greek forms and that the underlying trend might be a helluva lot more serious that reported in the mainstream media.

Goldman Sachs analyst, Natacha Valla, have just sent the following email to clients in which explains why things may soon turn much worse:

A crucial (fourth) general strike is unfolding in France today against the pensions reform. I got many emails inquiring on how things looked like on the ground down here.

In short:

1. Early to tell, but at this stage, mobilisation sounds quite significant (already 500 000 in the streets at mid-day). 3 million will be, once again, the magic number.

2. A key new dimension is the participation of high schools, which increases the risk of escalation. Transportation and refineries are also significantly hit.

3. Beyond the reform itself, discontent is mounting because the government is perceived to be “forcing” the reform through the Parliament (the debate was cut short at the Assembly, and the vote on key points re. retiring age. – on Monday – was accelerated at the Senate, where the debate is still expected to last until the week-end).

4. A few “grèves reconductibles” (renewed strikes) have already been announced.

5. The government already restated it wouldn’t make any further concessions…

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