“Unlimited strike” movement sweeps France

The Jan. 29 general strike in France—called “Black Thursday”—was the first to hit a major industrialized nation since the start of the global financial crisis. Eight major trade unions, representing teachers, postal workers, rail workers, and other public-sector employees, along with many private-sector unions, took to the streets across the country to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy’s handling of the crisis.

Unions said more than two million workers took to the streets across France. “Everybody knows we are living through a worldwide crisis of the like that hasn’t been seen for 70 years,” said Bernard Thibault, head of the General Confederation of Labor (CGT). Average people did not cause the crisis, he added, and “we can’t accept that workers are the only ones to suffer the consequences.”

After dark, as the big crowds dispersed in Paris, a large group of protesters clashed with police at Place de l’Opéra, throwing bottles, overturning cars, and starting fires in the street. Thirteen people were arrested. (Toward Freedom, Feb. 5; The Guardian, Jan. 30)

The university system remains on strike across much of the country in protest of the government’s higher education reform plans. Thousands of university students and lecturers took to the streets in some 20 cities Feb. 5 as part of a growing “unlimited” strike movement against government. In Strasbourg, police used tear gas against demonstrators, some of who threw projectiles at officers. Police occupied the steps of the university’s main building. The clash occurred during a visit by the higher education minister, Valérie Pécresse. (The Guardian, Feb. 5)

See our last posts on France and the global econo-protests.