PARIS – Transport workers shut down most trains Wednesday, testing the patience of Parisians forced to walk, bike or skate to work with a strike aimed at derailing President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to strip away labor protections he says hurt France’s competitiveness.
Faced with a new day of strikes today and the first major challenge to his crusade to modernize France via wide reforms, Sarkozy called on unions to enter talks.
“The president of the Republic has always considered that there is more to be gained for all parties in negotiation than in conflict,” presidential spokesman David Martinon said. The strikes “must end as quickly as possible in the interest of passengers.”
Sarkozy is known as a leader in a rush to accomplish his goals – and to sweep aside obstacles. The statement by his spokesman ahead of a second day of transport chaos suggested Sarkozy does not want to take a chance on his reforms unraveling. The one in question, aimed at ending a system of special retirement benefits, is emblematic of his bid to sweep away what he sees as obsolete practices.
Both the state train authority, which began its strike Tuesday night, and the Paris transport system announced a fresh day of walkouts today – despite a green light from Sarkozy to open talks while ceding nothing.
Parisians were forced to rely on their own energy, or ingenuity, to get to work Wednesday. They made full use of the city’s new rent-a-bike service, skated across town or used children’s scooters. Still others traded high heels for sensible shoes and walked.
Just 90 of 700 trains ran Wednesday. The Eurostar between Paris and London, run by a separate company, was not affected by the strike. And tempers were short on the first day.
“I support the idea of strikes, but not this strike,” said 25-year-old Xavier Michel, who skated five miles to his advertising job. This strike hurts “the little guys like us” who are “basically taken hostage.”