Airline strike threat

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THE possibility of a French pilot's strike, disrupting air travel to and within France during the World Cup, drew closer yesterday. The main pilots' union, the SNPL, gave formal notice of a strike, probably for two weeks, from next Monday. Five other, smaller, pilots' unions have also announced shorter strikes starting next week.

The head of Air France, who has asked pilots to take a 15 per cent wage cut over three years in return for shares in the company, said he would not back down. Jean-Cyril Spinetta, president of the state-owned airline, said he doubted pilots would carry through the threat. "To take the World Cup hostage, to use the competition for blackmail" would be "judged very severely" by French public opinion, he said.

A two-week strike from Monday would disrupt Air France flights in the approach to the competition, which begins on 10 June. The airline has scheduled 110 special flights for teams, officials and of supporters, which it guarantees will take place. But other scheduled medium-haul and internal flights would be seriously affected.

A couple of other labour disputes appear to pose a threat to rail and road travel during France 98. A minority of lorry drivers belonging to the Force Ouvriere union blockaded autoroutes in several parts of the country yesterday, complaining that they had not yet received the full benefits of the settlement of the wider driver's strike last November. But their leader, Roger Poletti, said yesterday they had no intention of disrupting the World Cup.

There is also a threat from fairground workers, who are demanding subsidies and safe, guaranteed sites close to city-centres. Fairground vehicles blocked some motorways yesterday.

A minority union of train drivers is also threatening to strike during the competition, targeting suburban trains to the showpiece Stade de France near Paris and TGV links between host cities.