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Talks resume, truckers throw up barricade in Paris

November 6, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ Truckers threw up their first barricades in Paris on Wednesday, briefly disrupting traffic in the capital, while unions and owners held talks to find a solution to the 3-day-old strike.

Union leaders expressed optimism after owners made a concession on the way truckers’ salaries will be calculated.

Strikers have mounted about 150 barricades since the strike began Sunday. Gas stations were dry along much of the Atlantic Coast, gas rationing was imposed in some areas and irritation was increasing in neighboring European countries.

Their eyes red with fatigue, determined truckers in Normandy braced for another night in the cold and rain late Wednesday as their strike appeared set to go into its fourth day.

``I have been here since Sunday, and I going to stick it out to the end,″ said trucker Michel Cailly.

As night fell, truckers kept warm with fires and their appetites satisfied with barbecue on a makeshift grill. Some truckers climbed into their rigs to catch a few winks of sleep, or listen to the radio.

In Pessac, a town near Bordeaux in southwestern France, about two dozen truckers plodded down a highway, slowing traffic to a snail’s pace behind them.

``This is a symbolic action, to demonstrate how slow negotiations are going,″ said striker Christian Laflaquere. ``Our instructions are to walk at the same pace that negotiations are going at a national level.″

The strikers marched calmly and almost silently. They broadcast a message from loudspeakers to the blocked cars: ``Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your solidarity.″

In parts of France, food and fish were starting to spoil, garbage was going uncollected in at least one major city and some major factories were without parts needed to continue production.

Spanish automakers predicted production cuts by the end of the week. On the British side of the English Channel, up to 400 trucks were backed up waiting for ferries overnight, with 10-hour delays common. Ferry companies increased service to Belgian ports.

Paris has largely been spared from the conflict. But Wednesday afternoon, a handful of truckers blocked the circular highway around the capital, snarling rush-hour traffic for about an hour. Police later persuaded the truckers to disperse.

Before dawn, violence erupted in the southern city of Vitrolles when hooded men with steel bars and baseball bats attacked a group of strikers, injuring three people, one of them seriously.

In Nancy in east-central France, police intervened to break up a barricade outside a municipal garbage dump. As a result of the strike, garbage collection had been interrupted there since Tuesday.

The French Labor Confederation (CFDT) warned owners against using violence to end the strike, but also called on the strikers ``to keep their calm and to avoid any provocation.″

New contract talks offered hope of an agreement. For the first time since the strike began, the Union of Transport Federations (UFT), which represents about 80 percent of the nation’s trucking companies, agreed to sit at the table.

Late Wednesday, owners were to present their new proposal for an agreement, after dropping efforts for a flat salary that would exclude overtime and bonuses.

``It’s true the climate appears good for the negotiation, but at the same time our members are suffering attacks,″ said Joel Lecoq, secretary-general of the French Labor Confederation.

Among other economic effects, employees at three Renault auto plants were laid off Tuesday for lack of parts, though one plant resumed operations Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the national pilots union Wednesday urged its members to stay off the job Nov. 13-14 to protest working conditions.

Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, eager to end his first major labor crisis, told parliament Tuesday he was introducing a law that would strengthen truckers’ rights. He also accused owners of not respecting an agreement that ended last year’s walkout.

A strike last year paralyzed France for 12 days. A prolonged work stoppage this year could slow Christmas shipments and stifle economic growth in France, as well as harm other European economies struggling to get out of recessions.

Unions representing France’s 300,000 truckers want pay raises of up to 7 percent. The drivers are seeking a guaranteed salary of $1,600 for 200 hours of work a month and compensation for down time during loading and unloading.

Owners argue further concessions could price them out of an increasingly competitive European trucking industry, which is to be deregulated in July.

But the truckers don’t appear to be in a conciliatory mood. The failure of the bosses to honor agreements that ended last year’s strike has left them bitter.

Cailly, who has driven a rig for 32 years, says he is striking on behalf of younger truckers.

``France needs truckers, but you can’t take them for slaves,″ Cailly said.

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