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State Employees Join French Strike Wave

From Reuters

State employees demanding higher wages marched through Paris today, swelling a strike wave that has split France’s ruling Socialist Party.

Teachers, postmen, government clerks, customs officers and Air France staff joined rail workers, bus drivers and nurses who have been on strike or staging work slowdowns for over a week.

On Wednesday night, Socialist Party leaders urged Premier Michel Rocard to rethink his tight wages policy and make a concessionary gesture.

Uncertainty depressed trading on the Paris Bourse, or stock exchange, and the French franc weakened slightly against major currencies. But reports from provincial capitals said that the day of action was only partially heeded and that disruption in some cities was slight.

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Inflation in France is running about 3%, ahead of the 2% pay hike that state workers were awarded for 1988. Unions say they need 10% more to restore buying power lost over recent years of economic austerity policies.

Sees Threat to Budget

Rocard, a moderate barely trusted by Socialist hard-liners, has refused so far to bow to wage demands that he says would threaten the minority government’s anti-inflation budget.

Socialist Party General Secretary Pierre Mauroy, expressing solidarity with the strikers, said Rocard has to make a gesture to public sector workers whose real incomes have fallen.

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“They cannot be the only ones to see their purchasing power diminish,” he said. “A government’s honor requires that it defend its agents . . . a left-wing government’s ambition (is) that it renew the tradition of excellence in the public service.”

Mauroy, who was premier during France’s economic slump in the first half of the 1980s, also criticized the government’s “salami tactics” approach to public sector wage demands and called for a global settlement.

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