French drivers face the sack

France's trade unions yesterday hailed their victory in the 12- day-old lorry drivers' protest and urged other sectors to follow the hauliers' example in pursuing their demands. Lauding the mobile telephone and the fax machine - which enabled roadblocks to be placed to maximum effect - the unions' message was that strength lies in logistics and force prevails.

For some, the victory may have been Pyrrhic. Officials of one of the larger unions involved reported a spate of sackings of drivers on their first day back at work.

The government, meanwhile, was preserving a coolly diplomatic front. The transport minister, Bernard Pons, said every- one had come out of the dispute "with their dignity intact". The next stage should be completed today, when union negotiators meet government officials to decide a decree on hours.

The unions had an interest in declaring a "total victory" to end the protest cleanly, before the weather or fatigue did it for them.

The government also had an interest in allowing the unions to claim victory to ensure the roads reopened.

However, there is a real sanction. Employers may receive subsidies from the government, but they are not the state sector with bottomless pockets: some firms will shed jobs ; others will go out of business.

The CFDT was sanguine about likely job losses yesterday, saying the haulage sector in France was "oversupplied", that "thousands of companies" went out of business every year, and that companies which observed agreed terms and conditions would be "happy" with the settlement because it would make for "fairer competition".

The unions have chosen to "forget" that their call for higher pay was reduced to acceptance of a one-off "bonus" of 3,000 francs (pounds 355), and that any working hours decree is unlikely to go beyond the EU directive on a maximum 48-hour working week.

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