World News

FACTBOX: France's Sarkozy facing several social disputes

(Reuters) - French unions staged a day of action on Thursday to denounce the government’s economic policies and call for more measures to help consumers weather the crisis.

The protest comes at a time when several unrelated disputes have surfaced around France. The government is anxious to prevent the separate strands of discontent from melding into one major protest movement that could paralyze the country.

The following are details of some of the disputes.


Dozens of companies across France have announced mass layoff plans and in some cases staff have responded with shock tactics.

Workers hurled eggs at managers last week to protest against the closure of their tire plant by German group Continental that will eliminate 1,120 jobs.

Workers held managers hostage at a Sony plant for a night last week to demand more redundancy money when their factory closes in April, destroying 311 jobs.

Oil giant Total caused national outrage last week when it announced it would shed 555 jobs, days after unveiling record profits for 2008. Junior Employment Minister Laurent Wauquiez said this was “scandalous.” Total employees have staged strikes.


Students and lecturers have launched a series of strikes, sit-ins, sieges and boycotts for several months to protest against two separate government reforms.

The disputed reforms would give university rectors new powers to decide how much time lecturers spend teaching versus doing their own research, and would scrap dedicated teacher training colleges in favor of extra classes at university.

Fearing contagion, the government has agreed to review its plans, but unrest has continued unabated and many universities have been in chaos for weeks.


School teachers and pupils have been campaigning since early 2008 against government plans to shed jobs by not replacing retiring teachers. It already cut 11,200 jobs in education that way at the start of this academic year and plans to reduce payroll by a further 13,500 by the next academic year. There have been countless strikes and demonstrations.


There too, a government plan to reform the way hospitals are run and to shut down small hospitals to create bigger hubs in large towns has caused anger, strikes and demonstrations.


Youth gangs in several poor suburbs around Paris have staged violent attacks in recent weeks that have struck the public imagination. In one case, in the town of Gagny, a gang invaded a school and attacked pupils using metal bars and hammers. Twelve people were injured and more than a dozen were arrested.

President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded that the government work on an emergency plan to curb gang violence.

Similarly isolated incidents in the volatile suburbs have had devastating effects in the past. The death by electrocution of two teenagers while they were being chased by police caused three weeks of nationwide rioting in tough suburbs in 2005.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Crispian Balmer