French workers protest against cutbacks

MILLIONS of French workers are set to take to the streets on Thursday to warn the right-wing government that they will not bear the brunt of the slump.

Major union confederations CFDT and CGT and six other union groups have called on public and private-sector workers to strike and rally in what is likely to be the biggest show of working-class strength since President Nicolas Sarkozy was elected in May 2007.

CFDT leader Francois Chereque said: 'Employees feel that they are paying with their jobs, their wages and their labour rights for a crisis for which they bear no responsibility.'

CGT leader Bernard Thibault said that he expects the protests to be bigger than those that took place in 2006.

Back then, three million street protesters forced the government to scrap an amendment to a new youth employment contract that would have made it easier for bosses to fire employees who were under the age of 26.

The eight unions have issued a joint document listing demands from both the government and company bosses.

They insist that any state aid to ailing companies must be conditional on them supporting jobs and not cutting wages.

And they demand that the government immediately drop plans to cut 30,000 public-sector jobs by not replacing some retiring employees.

The unions also want state stimulus measures to be directed at consumers, not just firms, arguing that the government should revive the economy by boosting consumption.

And they want ministers to repeal legislation that has relaxed rules on the 35-hour working week.

Thursday's strike is expected to disrupt traffic on the national railway, at airports and on the Paris metro.

The country is likely to be paralysed as public-sector workers from schools, hospitals, the post office and state media join forces with car-factory workers, helicopter pilots and even ski-lift operators.

According to a poll by CSA-Opinion for the newspaper Le Parisien, about 69 per cent of the French people support the strike, while only 12 per cent of them oppose it.

The European Union predicts that the French economy, Europe's second largest, may contract 1.8 per cent this year.

And France's unemployment rate is expected to hit 10.6 per cent next year.

reprinted from the Morning Star