Photographer: JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images

French Transport Strikes to Intensify as Valls Digs In on Law

  • Trains, planes and Paris metro targeted over labor law
  • Poll says French want law withdrawn; Valls approval drops

French unions seeking to overturn an unpopular labor law are set to intensify their protests as the government shows no sign of giving in after a week of strikes and blockades caused gas stations in many regions of the country to run dry.

By the end of this week, the national railroad, the Paris metro, ports and air traffic controllers will all be on strike, though the degree to which the actions will be followed is unclear.

After a week in which many French gas stations faced shortages and some protests turned violent, Prime Minister Manuel Valls in a series of weekend interviews said the government will not back down on the labor law or the contentious article 2 that lets companies negotiate labor contracts outside industry-wide accords. “There will be no withdrawal of the text, no withdrawal of article 2,” Valls said in a round-table interview with Le Parisien readers in the newspaper’s Saturday edition.

“France must show that it’s capable of reforming,” Valls said in an interview with Journal du Dimanche on Sunday. Valls said he spoke by phone on Saturday with union leaders including with Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT, which has been leading the opposition to the labor law.

Trains, Planes

Four unions including the CGT have called for an unlimited strike at the national railroad  SNCF starting Tuesday, the CGT has called for a stoppage at the RATP, which manages Paris’ metro and buses starting Thursday and the UNSA-INCA union of air traffic controllers has called for a strike June 3-5. The CGT has called for a 24-hour strike Thursday at France’s ports.

All the strikes are linked to labor disputes specific to those sectors, but are also aimed at forcing a withdrawal of the labor law. Another union, Force Ouvriere, has called for transport strikes to start June 10, the opening day of the European soccer championships that France is hosting.

There have been scattered strikes at the SNCF and RATP over the past months, and in general more than half of trains have still run.

The situation at France’s gas stations has improved since last week, when nationwide there were long lines of motorists waiting to fill up. About 20 percent of gas stations were facing shortages over the weekend, down from 30 percent at the end of last week, the government said.

Blockades Lifted

Valls held a meeting Saturday with energy executives, and afterwards Transport Minister Alain Vidalies said blockades at all but one of the country’s 200 fuel depots were removed and the government would continue to order the police to lift them. But only two of France’s eight refineries were fully operating.

Not all French unions are opposed to the labor law, which was watered down in March after an earlier round of protests. The CFDT, which vies with the CGT as France’s largest union, is in favor of the law in its current form.

According to a Ifop poll for Journal du Dimanche, 46 percent of the French want the law withdrawn, 40 percent want it modified, and only 13 percent want it to pass in its current form. The poll questioned 982 people on May 27 and 28. Meanwhile, Valls’s popularity in May fell six points to 24 percent, its lowest ever, a BVA poll said Saturday.

President Francois Hollande has largely stayed out the debate, though at a press conference Friday in Japan where he was attending a Group of Seven leaders’ meeting he backed Valls. “We can’t accept that there are unions that dictate the law,” Hollande said in Ise-Shima, Japan. “As head of state, I want this reform. It fits with everything we have done for four years. I want us to go right to the end.”

Hollande Sunday was in Verdun with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the World War I battle, the longest of the conflict.

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