Striking French Rail Workers Demonstrate, Talks Begin
PARIS (AP) _ Several thousand striking railroad workers and supporters demonstrated in Paris and other major cities Tuesday, and union heads walked out of negotiations in a symbolic protest of the railroad’s refusal to withdraw a contested salary system.
Trains ran at 40 percent of normal on main lines, railroad officials said. Service has averaged about 25 percent of normal since the walkout began.
In Paris, an estimated 5,000 people demonstrated in support of the strike, responding to a call by the country’s largest union, the Communist-run General Confederation of Labor.
The demonstrators, including confederation members from several other trades, marched for two hours, ending up in front of the railroad headquarters near the St. Lazare station. Many waited calmly outside as talks began inside by representatives of the government, the railroad management and labor unions.
On Tuesday evening, the heads of the federation and two other major unions, the Workers Force and the French Democratic Confederation of Workers, left the talks but insisted this was a ″gesture″ rather than a ″rupture.″ Union delegations remained to discuss working conditions and other issues under dispute.
In Marseille, about 2,000 people joined the confederation’s demonstration, including striking railroad workers and striking seamen and dockworkers. Smaller demonstrations took place in Rennes and Nantes.
The government, intervening in the strike for the first time Monday, temporarily suspended a controversial wage system and appointed a mediator.
The General Confederation of Labor and the Worker Force unions reiterated demands for a complete withdrawal of the wage scale, which emphasizes merit over seniority for promotion and increases.
Francoise Lavondes, the mediator, said he would meet with union leaders Wednesday to start his talks. He criticized the union for demanding agreements before returning to work.
After the union heads walked of the negotiations Tuesday night, federation Secretary General Georges Lanoue said, ″We will not refuse to meet Francois Lavondes, but we are opposed to the maneuver by management and government which consists of kicking the ball out of the court,″ a reference to the suspension of the salary system rather than total withdrawal.
After police freed trains blocked by pickets at Paris’ Gare du Nord Monday, management announced a ″distinct improvement″ in train traffic, clearing the way for substantial negotiations during the Mixed Status Commission meeting.
The rail strikers number about 20,000 and include 30 percent of all railroad employees but 88 percent of all train drivers.
In related developments, negotiations were under way in a Paris bus and subway work stoppage that started Tuesday.
The strike for higher wages cut Metro traffic to 82 percent of normal and bus traffic to 72 percent of normal, according to subway management.
The strike was called by all major subway and bus workers with the exception of the Autonomous Traction Union, which represents most subway drivers. The drivers held a three-day strike last week and won some concessions.
The Secretary of State for Maritime Affairs, Ambroise Guellec, met shippers and union representatives in an effort to end the strike by some merchant seamen and dockworkers that has interfered with shipping in many major French ports since Dec. 10.
The maritime strikers are demanding that the government abandon a plan that would allow certain French ships to hire non-French sailors.