France responds to economic downturn with a general strike
Trains, buses, airports, hospitals, schools, offices closed or in limited service
People everywhere talk about the economic crisis, but the French, in their way, are doing something about it. France has come to a near standstill for a one-day general strike, the CBC's David Common reports from Paris.
Hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets, protesting that banks, not people, are being bailed out and decrying President Nicolas Sarkozy's cost-cutting moves as unemployment creeps toward 10 per cent.
"Today is being called Black Thursday here in France, and with good reason," Common reports. "Here’s just a partial list of the things that are closed or in limited service: the metro, buses, trains, airports, hospitals, schools, government offices, post offices — the list goes on and on."
Thierry Dedieu, a leader of one of country's major labour groups, the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, put the protesters' view this way: "We want to show that people are dissatisfied at the moment. We don't want to have to pay for a crisis that we're not responsible for."
Although general strikes are no novelty in France, this one seems to have unnerved Sarkozy, who has been uncharacteristically quiet.
That may be partly because the general population, for the first time in a long time, seems to support it, and partly because Sarkozy sees parallels with the May 1968 street protests that helped to push longtime president Charles de Gaulle from office, Common says.
In Paris, commuters braved freezing temperatures and biked, walked and even took boats to work, but a 2007 law ensuring minimal transport service meant that some subways, buses and suburban rail lines were operating, and they were stuffed with passengers, the Associated Press reported.
"I'm not against the fact that people demonstrate to defend their interest and their benefits, as they say, but is this really the best time to do it, considering what is going on right now with the economic crisis?" Pierre Rattier, a commuter, told APTN.
"So I really don't think it's the best time to have done this, but, well, this is typically French."
With files from the the Associated Press