French President Nicolas Sarkozy held emergency meetings with the bosses of public transport, electricity and gas companies, before the start of a transport strike threatening to be the biggest for years. Public sector workers, led by train drivers, are outraged at the president’s reforms of employment conditions, particularly the retirement age.
“The French people have already approved these reforms. I said, before the election, that I would pursue change to the bitter end. Nothing will deter me. It’s the best thing France can offer Europe,” said the president.
Strong words, a hint of Margaret Thatcher, but it does not impress the leader of the train drivers’ union, Eric Falempin, who said: “Many rail workers, when they signed their employment contracts, knew that drivers could retire at 50, and the others at 55. That’s what we’re fighting for.”
Last month’s two-day transport stoppage caused widespread chaos in towns and cities across France. The two sides seem entrenched, and this latest action may drag on much longer.
Other workers are also gearing up to defend what they see as their inalienable rights. But the president is determined to press on with his reforms, saying France simply cannot afford not to.