French strike over work­ing con­di­tions

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

Paris po­lice fired tear gas and taxi driv­ers lit bon­fires on a ma­jor high­way Tues­day amid na­tion­wide strikes and protests over work­ing con­di­tions and com­pe­ti­tion from non-tra­di­tional ser­vices such as Uber.

Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls met with taxi driv­ers in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to defuse ten­sions. He con­demned the driv­ers’ vi­o­lence but promised to strengthen a po­lice crack­down on the com­pet­ing taxi ser­vices the driv­ers are protest­ing. He is also form­ing a panel of taxi com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tives and govern­ment min­is­ters to dis­cuss re­forms in the sec­tor.

Tues­day’s protests are the lat­est chal­lenge to the So­cial­ist govern­ment as it tries to mod­ern­ize the econ­omy and find France’s place in an in­creas­ingly glob­al­ized, on­line mar­ket­place.

One in five flights were can­celled at Paris air­ports and other flights faced de­lays as air traf­fic con­trollers staged a walk­out and taxi driv­ers dis­rupted roads.

Twenty peo­ple were de­tained at protests around the French cap­i­tal, ac­cord­ing to Paris po­lice, and i-Tele tele­vi­sion re­ported that two peo­ple were in­jured at Orly Air­port when a shut­tle bus tried to force its way past a taxi driv­ers’ block­ade.

Some teach­ers and other pub­lic ser­vants are also on strike over wages, education re­forms and work­ing con­di­tions.

Hun­dreds of French taxis, joined by a few from Bel­gium and Spain, blocked a mas­sive in­ter­sec­tion lead­ing into western Paris. Dozens of taxi driv­ers tried to march onto an eight-lane by­pass, but po­lice pushed them back with tear gas. Some driv­ers set pre-dawn bon­fires, put out later by fire­fight­ers.

Tra­di­tional taxi driv­ers say they’re suf­fer­ing un­fair com­pe­ti­tion from Uber, which has faced le­gal chal­lenges around Europe.

Uber’s low­est-cost ser­vice is banned in France and two Uber ex­ec­u­tives go on trial next month in Paris for fraud. Pre­vi­ous French taxi protests have also turned vi­o­lent, with am­bushes of Uber driv­ers and pas­sen­gers.

Karim As­noun, head of the CGT Taxi Union, said at Tues­day’s Paris protest: “Un­for­tu­nately the gov­ern­ments are weak and as un­em­ploy­ment is pres­sur­ing them, they cede. They think they are cre­at­ing jobs, whereas for ev­ery cre­ated job there is one that’s de­stroyed.’’

Uber sent a mes­sage to French cus­tomers warn­ing of po­ten­tial vi­o­lence, say­ing the goal of Tues­day’s protest is “to put pres­sure on the govern­ment to ... limit com­pe­ti­tion.’’ It warned that lim­it­ing app­based car ser­vices would raise costs, put driv­ers out of work and send cus­tomers back to the era “be­fore apps and smart­phones.’’

Protests were also held in other French cities. Uber driv­ers “van­dal­ize pro­fes­sion­als who are pay­ing taxes, who re­spect the rules,’’ said Rachid Boud­jema, 37, pres­i­dent of the taxi driv­ers union in Mar­seille.

AP PHOTO

A pro­tester holds a ban­ner read­ing “State of emer­gency Salaries, Jobs” as he takes part in a demon­stra­tion in Paris on Tues­day.

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