France confronts 'another 1968': Widespread trouble feared in state industries as strikers mount blockade of airports for fifth day

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The Independent Online
AIR FRANCE strikers clashed with police yesterday as they tried to block runways and motorway access roads at two Paris airports on the fifth consecutive day of disruption.

At Orly airport to the south of the city, police fired tear-gas at stone-throwing strikers, protesting at plans to cut 4,000 of the 63,000 jobs at the loss-making state airline. At Orly and Charles de Gaulle airport, north of Paris, protesters blocked roads leading to the passenger terminals for much of the morning.

While most Air France flights were cancelled or transferred to the provinces or Brussels, foreign airlines were able to operate normally. On Tuesday, obstacles and demonstrators on the runways halted all traffic for a while.

The violence and disruption prompted 22 leading French industrialists and businessmen to publish a full-page advertisement in the two national dailies Le Figaro and Liberation with the slogan 'The Air France strike means France is broken down'.

Bernard Bosson, the Transport Minister, asked the Air France management to reopen talks with unions to answer complaints that lower-paid ground staff will suffer more under restructuring plans than cabin crews and pilots.

Edouard Balladur, the Prime Minister, apparently fearing that the discontent could spread to other state-owned concerns, called a meeting of ministers next week to discuss the social fall-out of industrial restructuring.

Ground staff at Air Inter, Air France's domestic subsidiary, have called a strike for next Tuesday. The SNCF state railways and France Telecom are also threatened with trouble while unions representing employees at a number of state-owned companies have called a protest march on 18 November.

The unrest, the first since Mr Balladur became Prime Minister in March after the right's election victory, had been long predicted for this autumn. In part, it is inspired by fears that privatisation will mean job losses as companies are pruned to make them attractive to investors. Serge Dassault, head of the Dassault aircraft manufacturer, went so far as to compare the situation to the 1968 riots, which brought France to a halt.

The sudden explosion of strike action has added a second difficulty to Mr Balladur's agenda, already burdened by France's opposition to a Gatt trade agreement. In an interview with the Independent, Mr Balladur said the Gatt talks, which the US wants to be concluded by 15 December, were more complicated than just 'a Franco-American quarrel on cereals'.

Balladur interview, page 13

(Photograph omitted)

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