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Issue #1799      October 18, 2017

France

Millions take to the streets

For the first time since 2007, all nine public-sector unions – which represent around 5.4 million workers – called their members out to protest against new labour laws eroding working conditions, as well as plans to slash the number of civil servants by 120,000 over the next five years.

“We are going to remind [Mr Macron] that there’s the bubble he lives in and there’s the real world,” said union federation General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail – CGT) leader Philippe Martinez. The Education Ministry claimed that 17 percent of teachers were on strike, though news reports suggested up to 50 percent may have walked out.

And several schools in Paris and around the country were shut down by students blocking the entrances in solidarity with the unions.

“They unravel all the social protections supposed to protect the weakest and the workers,” said Sandrine Amoud, a teacher on strike in Paris. Nurse Beatrice Vieval said her Paris hospital has seen three recent suicides among staff, and she fears that government plans to cut public servant jobs and to freeze wages “will make the situation worse.”

She said she already feels squeezed by increasing cutbacks – “wages are frozen, hospital conditions are deteriorated, staff are depleted by reorganising services.”

Philosophy student Amado Lebaube said the attack on working conditions had already hurt consumers of public services, and could threaten his ability to stay in school.

He expressed thanks for teachers, student housing aid and government scholarships, adding: “I can study today because there are public services in this country.”

And union federation Workers’ Force (Force Ouvrière – FO) general secretary Jean-Claude Mailly called on the president to stop “austerity” policies toward public servants during a protest in the city of Lyon, one of 130 mobilisations across the country.

Police clashed with protesters in the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris, using tear gas and batons. Several people could be seen with injuries.

Flagship carrier Air France says about 25 percent of domestic flights would be cancelled due to a walkout by air traffic controllers.

Despite Mr Macron’s axe falling on private-sector workers too, the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail – CFDT), the largest union federation in the sector with historic ties to the Socialist Party, has been reluctant to join CGT protests against the law.

CFDT deputy secretary-general Veronique Descacq said the unions plan to meet again on October 24 to try to agree a strategy.

The CGT has already called another day of action on October 19.

Morning Star

Next article – Fukushima compensation

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