Monday, October 18, 2010

[olympiaworkers] Oil workers, youths, truckers defy French govt

By GREG KELLER, AP Business Writer Oct. 18, 2010

PARIS – French oil workers defied the government's demand Monday to get
back to work and end fuel shortages, stepping up the fight against
President Nicolas Sarkozy's retirement reforms. Youths and truckers joined
in, facing off against riot police and creating chaos on the roads.

Strikers have blockaded a dozen French refineries and numerous oil depots
in the last week as part of widespread protests over Sarkozy's plan to
raise the retirement age to 62, a reform the French Senate is voting on

Workers are angry because they consider retiring at 60 a pillar of
France's hard-won social contract — and fear this is just the first step
in eroding their often-envied quality of life. Critics say Sarkozy wants
to adopt an "American-style capitalist" system and claim the government
could find pension savings elsewhere, such as by raising contributions
from employers.

Sarkozy's conservative government points out that 62 is among the lowest
retirement ages in Europe, the French are living much longer and the
pension system is losing money already.

The strike by oil workers has been the most disruptive tactic yet — and in
response, the Interior Ministry opened a crisis coordination center Monday
just to focus on the conflict.

Fearful motorists have flocked to gas stations in panic and found many
empty, while aviation authorities have been forced to tell short-haul
planes coming in to make sure to bring enough fuel to get back.

The government ordered airlines to drastically cut back their flights into
France on Tuesday, when labor unions plan new nationwide protests and
strikes across the public sector. Severe disruptions to air travel, public
transport, schools and other facilities are expected.

Striking oil workers piled up tires and set them ablaze Monday in front of
a refinery at Grandpuits, east of Paris, after authorities issued a legal
order insisting that some reopen the facility. Workers said they would
refuse, as curls of heavy black smoke wafted into the air.

Other employees and residents formed a "human chain" to prevent people
from entering the plant.

Dozens of oil tankers remained stuck in the Mediterranean, anchored
outside Marseille's two oil ports, where workers have been on strike for
more than three weeks to protest a planned port reform as well as the
retirement changes.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon pledged Sunday to do what's necessary to
prevent fuel shortages, saying the government won't allow such shortages
to hurt the French economy. The head of France's petroleum industry body
said fuel reserves were "enough to keep us going for a few weeks."

The protests in France come as countries across Europe are cutting
spending and raising taxes to bring down record deficits and debts from
the worst recession in 70 years. Labor leaders, students and civil
servants are fighting back.

French truckers staged organized slowdowns Monday to snarl highway
traffic. Cars and trucks drove at a snail's pace on the main highway
between Paris and the northern city of Lille, with red union flags waving
out the windows.

Youths, meanwhile, burned tires and cars, set up blockades and clashed
with riot police Monday outside some high schools in Paris and nearby

Students from Lycee Joliot Curie in the Paris suburb of Nanterre tried to
blockade their school, with about 100 facing off against police, who
responded with rubber bullets. In all, 261 schools were blocked by
protests Monday.

Rail unions, which have been on strike since early last week, prolonged
their walkouts through Tuesday to coincide with more than 200 street
protests — the sixth nationwide protest since early September.

Union leaders also called for support strikes from other sectors,
including energy, postal workers and private commerce, as well as from
employees at Eurotunnel, which runs freight and passengers under the
English Channel to London.

France's DGAC civil aviation authority ordered airlines to cancel 50
percent of their flights Tuesday out of Paris' Orly airport, and 30
percent at other airports nationwide, including Paris' largest airport,
Charles de Gaulle. Most disruptions were expected to hit short- and
medium-haul flights.

Airport operator ADP said strikes by oil workers at Charles de Gaulle
airport had already begun causing delays on Monday. Spokesman Jerome
Landras said travelers should contact their airline to check on flights.

Train traffic also continued to suffer from the nearly weeklong strike.
France's SNCF railway operator said about half its high-speed TGV trains
had been canceled Monday, but traffic on the Eurostar between Paris and
London was normal.


Associated Press writer Jean-Marie Godard in Paris contributed to this

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