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Day 12: Roadblocks Begin Falling as Some Accords Are Signed

November 29, 1996

ROUEN, France (AP) _ Roadblocks were being torn down around France today after unions and trucking companies signed preliminary agreements to end a 12-day truckers’ strike that has crippled France.

The was no announcement that the strike was over, however, and one major union said the issue of salaries remained a major sticking point.

The effects of the strike lingered. Up to 5,000 gas stations across France were out of gas or running low today, state radio France Info reported.

A separate French airline strike ended today, but unions announced plans for another two-day walkout Dec. 10-11 in a dispute over restructuring plans.

Government mediator Robert Cros announced today that five accords had been signed with the truckers, among them a key agreement on early retirement at age 55 and one on sick pay. He also said the government had agreed to issue a decree holding the trucking companies to their word.

Soon after, Roger Poletti of the Workers Force union said a deal had been made on a $600 year-end bonus. But there was still disagreement on a broader pay increase and on working hours.

The government announced that a deal on working hours would be made by December 15. The truckers want to be paid for all hours worked, not just those in the cab.

As the day wore on, roadblocks began coming down at several cities across France, including Fontainebleau outside Paris, Bergerac in the southwest and Arles in the south.

The number of roadblocks dropped below 200 today, compared to 250 on Thursday, France Info said.

Outside the Normandy city of Rouen, Valere Couture had been sleeping in his truck for 11 days as part of a roadblock.

``We miss our families. Psychologically, it’s hard to face another weekend,″ said Couture, a father of two.

He and other truckers stood in cold pouring rain around huge bonfires in the middle of the road, stoking them with wooden crates, pizza boxes and other trash.

Local residents supporting the strikers brought them food, wine and bottled water. Truckers heated water in pots and pans to make coffee.

Some truckers were adamant about holding out.

``We’re determine to continue until we get the wages we deserve,″ said Michel Crepy. ``The companies never pay us for the extra hours we work.″

The blockades had paralyzed much of the country and wrought havoc elsewhere in Europe. Gasoline rationing measures were in place in at least half of France’s 90 counties.

Companies, faced with closure, resorted to imaginative schemes to outwit strikers. Peugeot began using helicopters to transport spare parts to its auto assembly plant in Poissy, west of Paris, bringing in 12,000 tons of parts in 24 hours.

Meanwhile, pilots and cabin crews at state-owned Air France and Air France Europe returned to work today after a two-day strike that drastically cut flights. Some flights at the domestic Air France Europe were still canceled today.

The airline strikers were protesting company efforts to limit costs and trim jobs.

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