France's public workers strike over job cuts
Thousands of French public sector workers went on strike over government plans for job and spending cuts.
Thousands of French public sector workers went on strike on Thursday over government plans for job and spending cuts, although official estimates suggested the turnout was well down on previous strikes.
Teachers, civil servants and health workers took part in demonstrations across the country to protest plans by the centre-right government of President Nicolas Sarkozy to replace only one in two public sector workers when they retire.
"There's a central demand, which is linked to all the other ones. It's a rejection of job cuts," said Gerard Aschieri, head of the FSU trade union.
"The 100,000 cuts that there have been in the last two years but which come on top of the previous years; that has dramatic consequences for the civil servants and their working conditions but overall for the service that is given to users," he said.
In Paris, around demonstrators marched through the city centre, waving banners and chanting slogans but the protest appeared to have attracted far fewer than similar protests last year and none of the leaders of the big unions took part.
Police said some 6,600 took part in the Paris demonstration while the CGT union said the figure was 15,000, with 130,000 taking part in about 100 demonstrations across the country.
Figures issued by the ministry in charge of the civil service also indicated a lower participation rate than during an earlier protest in March, 2009.
The ministry figures showed 12.2 percent of civil servants had joined the strike by the middle of the day, less than half the 25.9 percent level seen on March 19, 2009. Unions said the level was between 25 and 30 percent.
Excluding education workers, participation was just 6.2 percent, compared with 23.1 percent in 2009, the ministry said.
France's state teachers, who number almost 1 million and form an influential bloc, appear to have made up the bulk of the protestors, underlining their growing unhappiness about the effect of the cuts on already overcrowded classrooms.
"Anger is really mounting in our schools," Emmanuel Guicharez, a teacher in the southeastern city of Lyon and a member of the FSU union, told Reuters. "Teachers have to get by all on their own and it's not going to work when schools go back after the summer holidays."
Teachers' unions are angry at measures which include new training standards, changing the selection process to make it easier for parents to choose a school and steadily reducing the number of teachers.
The government plans to reduce the number of teachers by 16,000 this year, helping shrink the education system payroll by 50,000 positions over three years.
Reuters Last Mod: 22 Ocak 2010, 08:31