French workers ready to strike over job cuts

September 29, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PARIS -- President Jacques Chirac and his unpopular conservative government are facing a second autumn of unrest over spending cuts that they insist are necessary even with unemployment at its highest level in nearly 50 years.

Some subway and bus workers in Paris went on strike Friday for a pay raise and an end to job cuts, though they did not bring service to a halt. Teachers have called a nationwide strike for tomorrow, and all the big railroad and civil service unions plan to stop work for 24 hours on Oct. 17. They are protesting the government's plans to trim the public payroll as part of a spending freeze intended to cut the budget deficit.

Chirac and Prime Minister Alain Juppe insist that the painful austerity is needed to get France ready to adopt the common European currency planned for the end of the decade.

Juppe promised that the new European money system would bring "an economic big bang for Europe and for France," which needs one more than ever now that unemployment has risen to 12.6 percent of the labor force.

But with public opinion polls showing support for his policies below 30 percent, there have been mutterings of revolt from the ranks of his party and its partners in the government coalition.

The budget freeze -- and plans to reorganize deficit-ridden national transportation systems -- will mean that tens of thousands more jobs will be lost to attrition, labor unions predict, and some prominent government supporters have pleaded recently for a letup in the austerity.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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