Workers’ unions launched 24 hours of strikes across France Thursday to pressure the government to do more to combat the economic downturn.
Workers from the public sector, schools, and the transportation sector walked off the job along with some air traffic controllers. That was affecting air travel, particularly domestic flights. Subway trains and buses were operating, but regional trains were badly affected by the strikes. It is the second major labor action in two months, after workers went on strike in January. Strikes and protests were planned in more than 200 cities and towns across the country Thursday. A major demonstration was also planned for Thursday afternoon in Paris. Big traffic tie-ups were expected as the line of demonstrators make their way through the eastern part of the capital. The demonstrators’ grievances are varied, but they are unified in their displeasure with the government’s handling of the economic crisis. President Nicolas Sarkozy told cabinet ministers Wednesday that he “understands the concerns of the French people,” but that his government has ruled out new social spending, saying its top priority remains to protect jobs and industry, according to the French news agency, Agence France-Presse. Sarkozy also rejected calls by unions and the opposition to suspend a 50-percent cap on income tax, arguing that it would drive wealthy taxpayers abroad, AFP reported.