French protests ease ahead of vote

Protests by students and workers against pension reform appear to be losing steam ahead of parliament vote to pass bill.

Students protested outside the Senate in Paris on Tuesday but with fewer numbers than previously seen [AFP]

Protests in France appear to be loosing momentum as the passing of a pension reform bill which they oppose seemingly draws near.

Widespread strikes eased on Tuesday, with rubbish collectors in the southern city of Marseille and employees at three oil refineries going back to work.

Students held protests but in relatively low numbers in comparison to large protests held during the past fortnight.

The bill that will raise France’s retirement age from 60 to 62 has already been passed by the senate and is to be voted on by the national assembly, the lower house, The vote, expected on Wednesday, is all but certain to pass.

Union leaders have admitted that with the bill about to become law they will have to change tactic.

“The movement is not finished. It will continue. It will take other forms. The subjects it has raised are not closed, whatever happens in the coming days,” Bernard Thibault, head of the CGT union told state television.

Francois Chereque, leader of the CFDT union said that as the parliamentary debate on the bill ends unions would be “looking at it from another perspective”.

“We’re not calling into question the legitimacy of parliament … but a law is always perfectible.”

Strikes curtailed

Road blocks at the country’s largest oil port in Marseille were bulldozed by authorities on Tuesday and rotting piles of trash are expected to be cleared soon, with garbage collectors agreeing to return to work.

Garbage collectors said that they were going back to work for hygiene reasons and due to frustrations of the public, however, they have also not been paid for two weeks while on strike.

Five of France’s 12 mainland oil refineries were also said to be back up and running after strikes that shut them down caused major fuel shortages.

Brice Hortefeux, the French interior minister, said there was a “gradual but steady” return to normal supplies to service stations.

Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the capital Paris, said: “Because many people feel that the law is now a done deal that really robs them of the incentive to fight.

“But the point that the students and unions have been making is that it is never too late to get the law changed or removed from the statute books. The real question is whether their argument will appeal to people in large numbers.”

Unions have already announced two new nationwide protests – for Thursday and November 6.

Millions of people have taken to the streets during the past two weeks in protests organised by unions and students, and the nation grappled with fuel shortages.

Steadfast Sarkozy

Strikes have continued but without the vigour seen last week. On Tuesday a few dozen people from the CNT and SUD Solidaire unions blocked a buses depot in Neuilly Sur Marne, an eastern suburb of Paris.

The blockage stopped more than 50 buses connecting the French capital to its eastern suburbs. Police watched the protesters without any intervention.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has stood firm throughout the weeks long protest movement, insisting the reform is necessary to save the money-losing retirement system and ensure funds for future generations as life expectancy increases and the nation’s debt soars.

Besides raising the minimum retirement age to 62, it increases the age to access full retirement benefits from 65 to 67.

The French finance minister announced that the strikes are costing the national economy up to 400 million euro ($557m) each day, as workers continued to block other oil refineries and some rubbish incinerators.

Polls have shown that most French people support the strikers, however, the conservative Sarkozy’s popularity is plummeting.

A poll published in Sunday’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed that only 29 per cent of those surveyed were satisfied with Sarkozy’s performance. It was the French leader’s lowest rating since taking office in 2007.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


Industry body says oil refineries across the country have been cleared of blockades set up by striking workers.

25 Oct 2010
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