Date: Wed, 29 May 1996 01:25:32 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
Subject: French Workers Take To The Street
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** Topic: French Workers Take To The Street **
** Written 3:56 PM May 26, 1996 by labornews in **
From: Institute for Global Communications <>

French Workers Take to Streets, Disrupt Rail Service

By Craig R. Whiltney, New York Times, 26 May 1996

[P]ARIS—Thousands of workers took to the streets of Paris on Thursday and others disrupted passenger train service to demand a shorter workweek to reduce France's 11.8 percent unemployment rate, in defiance of government efforts to cut its budget.

Prime Minister Alain Juppe, whose deficit-slashing plans touched off a monthlong transportation strike in France at the end of last year, denied a newspaper report that 25,000 government jobs would be cut in his next austerity budget—invented figures, he called them after Le Monde said 20,000 to 25,000 jobs a year might be cut from government payrolls.

Juppe had said last week that layers of fat in the privileged civil service would have to be cut to reduce the French budget deficit to 3 percent of its gross national product by next year, a requirement if France is to join a common European currency under European Union treaty arrangements. Last year, it was about 5 percent.

I perfectly understand the impatience of certain union organizations that are demonstrating on Thursday, and who say that things are not going fast enough and that we have to be more imaginative, he said on a trip to Orleans, where he was debating government plans to create jobs for French youth.

Unrest is also growing in Germany, where deficit reduction is also the order of the day despite an unemployment rate now nearly as high as in France. Chancellor Helmut Kohl proposed spending cuts of $32 billion last month, and the government has refused to offer more than a half-percent pay raise to public employees over the next year.

Warning strikes have shut down public transportation in Berlin and affected garbage collection and other services elsewhere, and the leading public-sector labor union broke off wage negotiations with the government on Thursday, raising the prospect of more shutdowns. The opposition Social Democratic Party has vowed to block the austerity moves in the German Parliament.

Here in France, leaders of two unions, the anti-communist Democratic French Labor Confederation and the communist-led General Confederation of Labor, called their members out for a demonstration that tied up sections of the Left Bank of Paris on Thursday afternoon. From 5,000 to 12,000 demonstrators, depending on whether the police or the unions were doing the counting, marched peacefully across the Seine to Iena Square in the 16th arrondissement.

Railroad workers, who shut down the national rail system for three weeks last winter over since-abandoned plans to cut back their pension benefits, kept three out of four commuter trains from running on Thursday morning north of Paris, delaying trains through the Channel Tunnel to London, and forcing one high-speed train from Belgium to divert from its normal Paris terminus to the station at Charles de Gaulle Airport.

If there is one theme that has been at the center of our demands for a long time, it's a reduction in working hours, said Nicole Notat, the DFLC's leader. I have never heard so many people complaining about long working hours and overtime not being paid or compensated for, she said.

French employer organizations have resisted shortening the workweek, now usually 39 hours, without reducing wages, and their leaders say businesses would be unlikely to take on many new employees even if working hours were cut to 35 hours a week, as the unions are demanding. Ms. Notat suggested going to 32 hours a week.

Jacques Barrot, the French minister of labor and social affairs, wrote in the daily Liberation on Thursday: A reorganization or reduction of working hours is not a miracle solution. But, he said, it is possible to show preference for a reduction of working hours, less overtime and more part-time work in labor negotiations.

President Jacques Chirac, elected with 52 percent of the vote a year ago on a promise to lower payroll taxes to help create new jobs, said last fall that the government deficit, $59.3 billion last year, had to be cut first by the end of 1997. Only after that, he said, would unemployment begin to come down.

His popularity plummeted, though now 44 percent of the people polled this week by the Ipsos organization for the weekly magazine Le Point said they approved of his actions as president. Only 36 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Juppe, up from 33 percent a month ago.

Both the French and the German economies have been stagnating since late last year, prompting fears of a new recession.

Both unemployment and budget deficits will be on the agenda at summit meetings of the 15-nation European Union and the world's seven richest industrial democracies in Italy and France next month.