World Economy

Strikes, Protests Paralyze France

Strikes, Protests Paralyze FranceStrikes, Protests Paralyze France

Open-ended strikes over controversial labor reforms continue to plague France, a day after the European football championship opened in Paris late on Friday.

As France braced for more strike disruptions and hooligan violence,  President Francois Hollande and a team of government ministers are framing the issue as one of “selfish” striking workers wreaking havoc for sports fans and of bringing the country’s “national pride” into disrepute, news outlets reported.

As the quadrennial Euro Championships kicked off in France, the country is mired in industrial stoppages. Strikes by workers’ unions on trains, metros and air transport are threatening to cause gridlock for millions of international fans who have arrived in the country for the month-long tournament.

A strike by a quarter of Air France’s pilots threatened to have an impact on fans travelling to matches, and trains continued to face delays on the 11th day of a rail strike.

Air France pilots’ two largest unions last week filed for an official four-day strike from Saturday June 11 to June 14.

The airline will cancel a further 10% of its long-haul flights and 10% of its domestic flights for the day, it said.

The airline said in a statement that the pilots’ strike "will jeopardize the company’s positive results after eight years of losses."

The country’s rail company, SNCF, said it will have 50 trains going "to and from the stadium", which "will carry between 20,000 and 30,000 travelers."

While France is on high alert for terror attacks it is old-fashioned hooligans who have proved the first test for security forces, with two nights of clashes in Marseille.

Even before England and Russia hit the field, hundreds of drunk and bare-chested supporters clashed with each other and police, hurling bottles and insults in the Vieux Port district.

Police fired tear gas and ordered bars and restaurants on the quay to close. Seven fans were arrested.

Sanitation workers also started a strike last weekend, leading to bins and garbage piling up in streets across the country.

One of six trash-collection centers in the French capital was operating normally and a third of garbage truck drivers were refusing to work, according to the Paris Municipality.

“El Khomri Law”

The industrial action, over a set of controversial labor reforms dubbed “El Khomri law” for Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri, have been on and off during the last three months, but intensified two weeks ago when the country’s largest union, CGT, called for open-ended strikes in rail, energy and other sectors.

The union said it would not break the strikes until the Socialist government scraps the contested labor bill. The CGT says the bill paves the way for fundamental changes in labor law at the expense of workers.

The reform bill is due to be debated at the Senate from June 13. The unions have already filed a notice for a national general strike set for June 14, four days after the football tournament begins.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls threatened on Wednesday to "heavily penalize" the strikers.

The Euro 2016 tournament from June 10 to July 10, is being held in 10 French cities: Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Paris, Saint-Denis, Saint-Etienne, and Toulouse.

France is expecting more than 2.5 million ticket holders and millions of additional fans across the 10 cities.

President Francois Hollande hailed the “smooth” start to the tournament on Friday, despite numerous strikes over pay, conditions and government reforms to labor law. However the industrial action is far from over.

But French workers defied government threats and continued striking over the hated El Khomri labor law.

“Let us be clear, the government has no intention of withdrawing this law, or of unraveling it,” said El Khomri.

Transport Minister Alain Vidalies vowed to use scab labor after rail workers threatened to walk out on the line serving the Stade de France in St Denis outside Paris. “If requisitioning is required … we will do it,” he said. “There will be no more negotiating.”