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Truckers Get Early Retirement Demand, But Strike Continues

November 28, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ A government mediator trying to end a crippling 10-day strike by French truckers abruptly quit early Thursday, possibly delaying settlement of a strike that has spilled over into other parts of Europe.

Shortly after midnight, Robert Cros broke off talks that the government had said Wednesday were ``on the verge″ of ending the strike. A union representative said Cros quit after trucking companies’ representatives said the best they could do was raise truckers’ pay 1 percent and give them a one-time bonus of $300.

``There is deep disagreement on the wage problem,″ Roger Poletti of the Workers Force union said.

The standoff has pitted truckers demanding higher pay, better hours and early retirement against company owners under pressure from an increasingly competitive European economy.

It continued to paralyze the country Wednesday. Drivers blocked traffic or fuel depots in about 250 places, and more than 2,000 gas stations were running out of gas, with 500 entirely out, according to radio reports. Some municipalities were limiting gas purchases.

During a marathon session ending earlier Wednesday after almost 20 hours, the truckers won a key victory in their demand for earlier retirement. Under the agreement, truckers who have worked for 25 years can quit at 55 and collect 75 percent of their pay.

More and more, the strike was being felt elsewhere in Europe. Foreign truckers were having trouble getting into France and even worse, some were unable to get out of France.

Germany’s national trucker lobby appealed to its government to help rescue about 1,000 German truckers stranded in France.

In Britain, more than 100 trucks an hour were headed through the city of Kent for the continent, and were running into huge traffic jams as they approached the port of Dover.

``I hope I can get back for Christmas,″ said Richard Wilding, a trucker from Gloucestershire who was on his way to Austria. He had spent more than 12 hours in a traffic jam.

The strike has caused a new headache for British and French companies accustomed to shipping their goods through the Channel Tunnel. The ``Chunnel″ has been closed since a fire last week, leaving shippers with only ferry or air service.

The effects of the truckers’ strike were wide-ranging:

_German automaker Volkswagen said the strike had disrupted deliveries of parts from Spain for its main factory in Wolfsburg. German radio quoted VW officials as saying work shifts may have to be shortened next week.

_In Portugal, about 100 National Republican Guards, many with dogs, were patrolling a border crossing where Portuguese truckers were trying to prevent French trucks from crossing in both directions.

_Spain’s Agriculture Ministry said the country was losing $16 million a day because it was unable to transport its products. Some 500 Spanish truckers were stranded on French highways, the ministry said.

In other labor unrest, some French transportation unions had called for action Wednesday in solidarity with the truckers. But most Paris-area trains and subways were running normally, though service to the Normandy city of Rouen was severely disrupted.

Pilots for Air France and its domestic unit Air Inter started a two-day strike Wednesday to press their own demands, forcing cancellation of about half their flights. Hundreds of travelers were stranded at Paris’ two international airports and in other French cities.

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