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French Transport Strikes Move Into Day 2

AP
Friday, 19 Oct 2007 | 5:51 AM ET

Train service started back up throughout much of France but many commuters in Paris biked, roller-bladed and even used children's scooters Friday as city transit workers kept up a second day of strikes against proposed economic reforms.

Unions at the national SNCF rail authority began resuming service but warned traffic would be irregular throughout the day, and urged commuters to find alternate transportation. There were warning of delays in train service to and from Britain, Belgium and Switzerland.

Only about a third of Parisian subways, buses and trams were functioning at morning rush hour, forcing people to search for alternative transportation.

Accompanied by nationwide protests, the country's biggest strikes in 12 years were a response to President Nicolas Sarkozy's bid to trim coveted worker protections in an attempt to stimulate Europe's third-largest economy.

Some 150,000 marchers took to the streets of Paris and other cities Thursday in the union-organized demonstrations, according to police estimates. Polls indicated limited public support for the strikes.

The dispute centers on Sarkozy's plans to scrap special retirement privileges for workers in physically tough jobs, such as miners and train drivers, but also for workers at the state bank and national opera house. They are able to retire earlier -- and on more generous terms -- than the vast majority of France's working population.

The government says the privileges cost too much money and are unfair; workers fearing unemployment lines resist any erosion of the labor protections that have long underpinned France's economy.

Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand insisted Friday that all French workers should have equal treatment so that the state can continue to finance full pensions.

"We cannot get by without this reform," he said. He added, however, that he was determined "to pursue dialogue."

Labor leaders were to meet with the government next week, but said they were ready to consider further strikes as Sarkozy pushes ahead with other, more sweeping reforms.

More than half of workers at the state-run electricity and gas companies also took part in Thursday's strikes.

While officials said there was no serious effect on households or businesses, electricity workers staged a symbolic temporary power cutoff to the president's secondary residence, La Lanterne at Versailles, according to the daily Le Parisien.