Sarko Down in Polls as French Strikes End
A national train strike that crippled France for nine days eased on Friday after rail workers voted Thursday morning to return to work. The poll to end rail strikes, coming just one day after union leaders and government officials began negotiations, was seen as a victory for President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose reform agenda has drawn massive resistance from rail workers and other public servants.
However, strikes that cost the country up to €400 million ($592 million) a day and at one point spread to other public services appear to have cost him with voters.
A poll conducted by the OpinionWay institute and published in the daily Paris newspaper Metro showed that Sarkozy's approval rating fell to 58 percent from a pre-strike level of 63 percent.
Service on inner city trains and Parisian subways resumed Friday morning after transportation workers at 42 of 45 union meetings voted to end the strike. However, transport authorities warned that it might be days before bus and rail lines returned to full capacity. Trains were still not running in pockets of southern France, where hard-line unions voted to continue the work stoppage.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon called on transportation workers to jumpstart service "completely and without delay."
Even as the rail strike fades, Sarkozy faces continued resistance from other groups affected by his broad reform agenda. Civil servants staged a separate strike Tuesday against pay and job cuts, and 3,000 students marched through Paris Thursday in protest of a plan that would restructure French universities with private funding.
Since his election in May, Sarkozy has stood by a pledge to implement those and other reforms that he says are necessary to modernize France's economy and save the nation's generous pension system.
While Sarkozy may have taken a hit with the public for his hard line approach, strike-weary commuters seemed indiscriminate in their criticism. Approval of Paris's mayor Bertrand Deleanoe, a Socialist who supported the strikes, fell from 59 to 51 percent. Support for France's unions also dipped.
Sarkozy's five point fall left him in far better shape than a similar conflict that befell his predecessor. After a train strike in 1995, approval for then French President Jacques Chirac sunk to 27 percent.