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French Strikers Continue Pressure Tactic : Labor: Rail services are disrupted. More protests against government austerity plan are set.

<i> From Reuters</i>

French Premier Alain Juppe faced mounting pressure over his bold austerity drive Saturday as railway workers took strike action for a second successive day and trade unions promised another general strike Tuesday.

The conservative prime minister’s plan to revamp the debt-ridden welfare system and make civil servants work longer to qualify for a pension sparked a huge public-sector strike Friday, the second in less than two months.

The protest crippled air and rail travel and a host of public services, and hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in towns and cities across the country.

Rail services suffered a second day of serious disruption Saturday after four unions called on employees of state-owned SNCF railways to pursue their strike at least until Monday.

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The railway workers are opposed to the reform of the generous cradle-to-grave welfare system, but they also fear that this year’s annual state contract, due to be unveiled next week, will include unfavorable conditions.

Newspaper reports said the contract will impose salary limits, job cuts and the decommissioning of loss-making rail lines.

Trains in the Paris region were hit hard by the strike, and only one in four trains were running on the long-distance, high-speed express lines. Five of the day’s eight scheduled trains on the Eurostar line between Paris and London were expected to run.

Two trade unions, Force Ouvriere and the Communist CGT, have called for another national strike Tuesday--this time by both public and private sectors.

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Juppe unveiled a far-reaching reform of the welfare system this month as part of a drive to bring down public deficits and qualify France for a single European currency in 1999.

Although welcomed in the financial markets, the move has done nothing to lift his sagging popularity at home.

University students and teachers have also been staging demonstrations, sit-ins and boycotts to demand more public funding and are planning national protests Thursday.


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