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Planes Grounded as French Workers Strike
April 3, 2003
Air traffic controllers, postal workers and other public employees brought
much of France to a halt Thursday with a one-day strike over government
plans to overhaul the pension system.
The nationwide walkout grounded many commercial flights and limited train
service, forcing commuters in Paris to squeeze into packed subway cars or
walk to work.
All major unions but one were participating in the strike, which
officially started at 8 p.m. Wednesday but was not felt until Thursday
National airline Air France said it canceled 55 percent of its short- and
medium-haul flights within Europe. All long-haul flights to destinations
such as Asia and the United States would be operating, the company said.
British Airways warned that up to 80 percent of its services to and from
France might be canceled.
In Paris, one subway line was shut down, while others had greatly reduced
"I've had enough," said Josette Chapon, 44, waiting for a cab in
central Paris. "I have been standing here for nearly half an hour.
The unions really know how to take us hostage."
Many commuters stayed off public transport and drove to work instead,
slowing the already clogged routes into Paris, Lyon and other major
cities. Radio reports said it took 90 minutes to travel just 18 miles
outside of Paris at the start of rush hour.
Other commuters clustered at bus stops, waiting impatiently for buses that
came sporadically if at all.
More than 100 protest marches were planned. Thousands of demonstrators
packed the Place de la Republique, a square in eastern Paris, before
crossing the capital.
Bernard Thibault, the head of the Communist-affiliated CGT labor union,
threatened more strikes if the government did not heed the warning.
"We have to resort to this type of protest when, despite our efforts,
the government isn't listening to us," Thibault told Le Figaro
The pension system needs a dramatic overall to avoid collapse within 20
years, and center-right Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has promised
to carry out a reform.
Civil servants fear they will lose some of their advantages. Under the
existing system, public employees generally work 37.5 years before being
eligible for retirement, compared with 40 years in the private sector.
© 2003, The Associated Press
© 2002 Global Action on Aging
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