French job protesters pledge strike action

French students and unions are vowing to press ahead with a one-day strike and more protests tomorrow unless the government withdraws a new youth labour law that has sparked violent demonstrations and shut down universities.

French students and unions are vowing to press ahead with a one-day strike and more protests tomorrow unless the government withdraws a new youth labour law that has sparked violent demonstrations and shut down universities.

The strike is expected to leave some air travellers stranded, disrupt train traffic and slow down subway travel in Paris and the provinces. Union leaders said they would meet Wednesday to decide on the next step, and one threatened to extend the strike.

“If there is not a positive response from the government Tuesday night, we will continue the movement,” Jean-Claude Mailly of the Workers Force union told The Associated Press.

The National Student Co-ordination, a loose grouping of university students, urged a massive turnout for the strike and demanded the conservative government’s resignation. During a meeting in Aix-en-Provence, the group also vowed to continue protesting after the strike, by blocking roads and train tracks on Thursday.

About 200 demonstrations are planned across the country tomorrow, with the largest winding through Paris. The protest will be the sixth in about two weeks in the capital. Some demonstrations have turned violent, with youths throwing bottles and rocks at riot police who retaliated with tear gas.

Most Air France unions are taking part in the strike. France’s civil aviation authority said some flights are expected to be cancelled, though the exact scope of disruption is unclear. The authority urged travellers to contact carriers directly for information.

In Paris, half of subway trains were expected to run, while the suburban RER commuter lines were to face greater disruptions, the RATP transport authority said. The national rail network, SNCF, said two out of three trains were expected on main routes. Eurostar service to London and Thalys trains to Brussels would not be affected, it said.

Though some universities and high schools have already been disrupted or completely shut down, more schools were to close their doors tomorrow during a teachers strike. Yesterday, about 200 students demonstrated in front of Paris City Hall, urging an end to the strike because they are frustrated about missing class.

The contested new law lets companies dismiss workers under 26 without cause during their first two years on the job – a provision the government hopes will encourage employers to hire younger workers.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has said the law would dent a 22% youth unemployment rate that was widely blamed for stoking the riots of last autumn. The rate soars to 50% in some of the troubled suburbs where the November unrest took root. However, student groups say it will only lead to more job uncertainty for France’s young.

The prime minister, considered a likely presidential contender for 2007 elections, has been portrayed by the left as intransigent and out of touch. In an interview with Radio-J, Socialist lawmaker Jack Lang compared him to ”a child who refuses to let go of his favourite toy.”

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