French unions fight for better wages in nationwide strikes

·2-min read

French unions are staging a major nationwide strike Thursday, with more than 170 protests calling for salary hikes to deal with the rising cost of living. Rail workers, teachers and other professions are pressuring the government just months ahead of presidential elections.

Four of France's major trade unions (CGT, FO, FSU and Solidaires) are behind the strike, which wants to see better pay especially for minimum wage workers and those in the public sector.

"We think this will be bigger than the strike on 5 October," Céline Verzeletti from the CGT told AFP, referring to the more than 85,400 people who participated according to the Interior ministry (160,000 according to the CGT).

Verzeletti said workers would represent a broad spectrum of sectors from industry to public service.

With just weeks to go until the April presidential election, fears over inflation and purchasing power have heightened.

Union leaders are calling for an increase to the minimum wage (Smic) which they say hasn't occurred since President Emmanuel Macron came to office.

They also want a reevaluation of salaries and retirement funds across the public service sector hit hard by inflation, which went up by 2.8 percent in December.

"Stop telling us a wage is the enemy of jobs," Yves Veyrier, from the FO union told AFP.

The Solidaires Union says that money is not the problem and that wealth should be spread around.

Politicians present

In Paris, a meeting and a concert will take place around midday, before a march towards the Finance ministry at 2pm. Paris highschool students also rallied earlier at Place de la Nation.

Teachers, who already held strikes and rallies on the 13 and 20 January, will be among those on strike again today.

They are angry with how the government has handled the Covid health crisis in relation to schools. Some 20 percent of primary school teachers are stopping work, according to the Snuipp-FSU union.

Some public transport lines are affected by the strike.

Several politicians will be among the marchers, including presidential candidates Fabien Roussel, of the French Communist Party (PCF), Yannick Jadot, of the Green party (EELV), Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left France Unbowed (LFI) and Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo.

CFDT union leader, Laurent Berger, said his organisation was not joining the strike, but supported the need to raise salaries especially for workers on the "second line".

"Only increasing the number of concrete, targeted initiatives will get results ... not these big inter-union protests," he told AFP.

"Everybody in the same bag just doesn't work."

Instead, his union will hold a separate protest in Paris made up of "essential" workers on 3 February.

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