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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May, 2005, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
French unions strike over holiday
Commuters stranded
Public transport was paralysed by the strike
Millions of French workers are staying at home for the traditional Pentecost holiday, despite the government's decision to cancel it.

Public transport came to a standstill in nearly 100 towns and cities and many municipal offices were closed.

The government wanted to change the holiday to a normal working day and use the extra tax revenue to pay for care for the elderly.

Disgruntled trade unions are holding strikes across the country.

The protest came just as political parties were launching their official campaigns over the European constitution.

Most private firms were reported to be working normally, as were the big stores, and the army cancelled all leave for the day.

Correspondents said many of those who stayed away were defying a centre-right government they accuse of abandoning social benefits for workers in favour of US-style free market policies.

A heatwave two years ago that killed 15,000 mainly elderly people prompted the government to scrap the holiday in order to fund measures to help older people cope.

Anxious unions

Trade unionists are rallying against the loss of a day's holiday, the government's plans to loosen the rules on France's 35-hour working week and against the European constitution.

Many in the unions see the proposed constitution as a threat to the French social model.

They believe it offers the French workforce too little protection and enshrines a more Anglo-Saxon economic approach.

A cartoon in Le Parisien newspaper satirises both French fears about the constitution and the chaos surrounding this Pentecost.

It has French President Jacques Chirac asking Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin who will actually be at work in France today.

Mr Raffarin answers: "So far, four Polish plumbers and three Romanian plasterers."

Sweden has also scrapped the Pentecost holiday, replacing it with a day off on the country's flag day of 6 June.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
What the French newspapers are saying about the strike



SEE ALSO:
French protest at holiday axing
29 Apr 05 |  Europe
Paris strike hits Olympic visit
10 Mar 05 |  Europe


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