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Mediator Announces Partial Accord, But Strike Continues

November 28, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ Striking truckers kept up their roadblocks across France today after a government mediator trying to end the 11-day-old dispute announced a partial accord and ended the talks.

Unions said wages remained a sticking point, and they pressed on with the action that has paralyzed traffic, caused gas shortages and spilled over into other parts of Europe.

A French pilots’ strike, meanwhile, continued for a second day, stranding hundreds of air travelers. One of France’s top union chiefs warned that wider labor unrest was imminent if the trucker strike lingered.

``The solidarity movements are pulling together. There are going to be strikes,″ Workers Force leader Mark Blondel told Europe 1 radio today.

Truckers erected a handful of new roadblocks by this morning, adding to about 250 on highways or at fuel depots across the country, state radio France Info reported.

On Wednesday afternoon, the government said the talks were ``on the verge of succeeding.″ Then, just after midnight, trucker’s union leader Roger Poletti emerged and said government mediator Roger Cros had quit. But soon after that, Cros himself emerged and said his mission was complete after reaching agreement on several points.

He said the partial accord would be signed Friday. It was not clear whether the unions would sign the accord, or what parts they would sign.

Poletti insisted the trucking company owners’ offer of a 1 percent pay increase and a one-time bonus of $300 was not enough to stop the strike.

``There is deep disagreement on the wage problem,″ said Poletti, of the Workers Force union, one of five representing the truckers.

Transport Minister Bernard Pons, however, termed the talks ``a success″ and said he would ``not understand, under these conditions, if the roads remain blocked.″

The truckers have been demanding higher pay, better hours and early retirement from company owners under pressure from an increasingly competitive European economy.

During a marathon session that ended Wednesday, they achieved at least one of their demands: earlier retirement. Under the agreement, truckers who work for 25 years can quit at 55 and collect 75 percent of their pay.

The strike _ termed Operation Escargot _ continued to paralyze the country Wednesday. More than 2,000 gas stations were running out of gas, with 500 totally out, radio reports said.

At Rungis, a sprawling wholesale food complex south of Paris, 80 businesses were preparing to lay off 1,700 employees, France Info reported. Distributors were increasingly worried fruit, vegetables and other perishables would rot.

The strike was being felt elsewhere in Europe. 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 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 additional troubles for British and French companies accustomed to shipping their goods through the Channel Tunnel. The Chunnel has been closed since last week’s fire, leaving shippers with only ferry or air service.

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