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Rail Workers Join Pilots’ Strike

June 4, 1998

PARIS (AP) _ Subway and rail workers joined striking Air France pilots today as France’s deepening labor crisis cast a dark cloud on the World Cup soccer tournament.

With the pilots’ strike now in its fourth day, a third round of talks in the pay dispute was scheduled for tonight.

``It’s a little bit premature″ to say the end is near, union spokesman Christian Paris told RTL radio, but he predicted ``significant advances″ in tonight’s talks.

But other labor troubles sprouted today.

One Paris subway workers’ union staged a partial strike, rail workers were striking in the Provence-Riviera region until Friday, and the Communist-led CGT union organized protest marches in Paris.

More than 1,000 electrical and gas workers marched from Place de la Bastille toward Place Saint Augustin, protesting the European-mandated deregulation of France’s electrical monopoly. Other marches were planned by hotel, department store and weapons plant workers.

Other pay disputes threatened to paralyze trains this weekend, and airline mechanics chimed in with plans for their own walkout.

In a continuing nightmare for passengers, an indefinite strike by baggage handlers at Charles de Gaulle Airport went into its third day today.

The transport chaos has embarrassed French politicians and World Cup officials, who now fear one of the world’s biggest sporting events may fizzle into a fiasco instead of a French triumph. Many ordinary citizens also were angry.

``It’s typically French, raising hell like that, and they pick just the right time to do it,″ said Christophe Monot, a shirt shop salesman.

``It’s unacceptable. It doesn’t make us look good,″ said Yvette Goupil, shaking her head as she sliced bread in her bakery.

Leading conservative lawmaker Philippe Seguin said the strike risked making France ``the laughingstock of the entire world.″

The month-long World Cup begins June 10. Despite the strike, Air France has guaranteed transport for the 32 nations involved.

The airline ``has the full support of the government,″ Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn told the National Assembly. He said pilot’s salaries, among the highest in the business, ``are among the elements needing reform.″

Air France pilots make an average of $160,000 a year.

President Jacques Chirac called on both sides to ``show proof of their responsibility″ in the dispute as France prepares to become ``the host country of the planet.″

But CGT union chief Louis Viannet shrugged off those requests.

``The World Cup is one thing, but the fact it exists doesn’t do away with the (pay) problems,″ he told Radio Monte Carlo.

Air France said 17 percent of its usual long-distance flights took off today, along with 30 percent of its short and medium-distance routes from Charles de Gaulle Airport and 40 percent from Orly.

Air France wants to give its 3,200 pilots stock in exchange for $83 million in pay cuts and has offered to eventually eliminate a two-tier salary schedule.

The carrier, which managed to report a profit in the last two years, says it is losing $16.7 million a day during the strike.

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