Transportation strikes begin in France

/ Source: The Associated Press

Strikes by transportation workers got under way Wednesday night, threatening to disrupt travel and embarrass organizers of Paris’ bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

In Paris, authorities forecast significant subway disruptions for Thursday and said that service on more than a dozen lines would be rerouted because of expected street protests. Trade unions have called for a massive demonstration in Paris to defend the 35-hour work week and to push for more jobs and pay talks.

Paris commuter trains were expected to be hardest hit, with only about 20 percent of suburban lines running, while half of France’s long-distance TGV trains were to be suspended, the national rail authority said.

Eurostar links with London and Thalys services to Belgium were expected to run normally. International disruptions were expected to be limited to Artesia night trains between France and Italy.

Civil aviation authorities said strikes were also likely to affect air traffic through Friday at 5 p.m.

Public services such the post office and social security also could be affected.

The ground transportation strikes began after the evening rush hour Wednesday and are to end at midnight Friday.

The work actions, which come amid a wave of labor discontent, were an embarrassment to officials who are hosting International Olympic Committee officials through Saturday.

Both trade union and bid officials say the timing of the strikes is unrelated to the IOC visit in Paris. Trade unions have pledged support for the games, which would create a windfall of extra jobs.

For Olympic officials, French labor up close
Unions have also pledged not to disrupt the IOC visit and are working with the Paris police department to make sure the two don’t cross paths.

Nonetheless, Olympic inspectors will get a close-up view of French labor and the protests raise the question of whether an Olympics in Paris would be disrupted if workers walk off the job in the summer of 2012.

On Wednesday, scientists nationwide were protesting a draft law that would provide more state funding for research but which protesters contend remains inadequate.

A student protest in Paris a day earlier turned violent, when hundreds of troublemakers interrupted a peaceful rally against planned curriculum reforms.

Much of the discontent is over proposed reforms to France’s welfare system and labor laws. The nation’s conservative government, trying to control its deficit line with European Union limits, wants people to contribute more to their health care and has trimmed the generosity of state pensions. Public sector workers oppose plans to reform the 35-hour work week to allow more overtime.

The last public transit strike in January caused wide disruptions.