. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

1-Day French Strike Knots Rails, Airlines

PARIS -- French state workers angered by wage freezes and job losses staged a one-day strike Thursday, grounding most airline flights and hobbling rail transport but fizzling in other sectors. Some union leaders called for tougher action.


Train engineers, air traffic controllers, postal and utility workers, teachers, medics and other civil service workers walked out to defend their long-protected status and fight conservative Premier Alain Juppe's austerity cuts.


The strike tested whether labor leaders could settle their rivalries and fuel the kind of strike fever of last year. But Juppe's pension reform, a major reason for last year's walkout, was not an issue this time around. Recent labor demonstrations have drawn smaller crowds than expected.


The job action so far was not as strong as last year's crippling three-week walkout that shut down French transportation and severely hurt other services in November and December. It was not immediately clear how many of the nation's nearly 5 million state workers were following the strike call.


"It has to be even stronger," Louis Viannet, head of the Communist-led General Labor Confederation, told Europe 1 radio.


Airports were severely affected by Thursday's walkout, struggling to maintain 15 percent of flights, said a spokeswoman for the Paris airport authority. Having advance warning, travelers deserted Orly Airport, where schedule boards were filled with flights reading "Canceled.''


Civil aviation officials said priority would go to overflights of the French territory and long-haul international flights to and from France.


Rail workers began walking off the job Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning only one in three trains were running, though the Eurostar under the English Channel maintained full service.


Paris subways were running at near-normal service, and rush hour traffic was little affected, while the postal service said about one-third of its work force was on strike.


Though union support appeared to soften, Juppe's clout has also weakened, with his popularity sliding amid near-record unemployment of 12.5 percent and calls within his own conservative coalition for a change in policy.


In an effort to cut the deficit to qualify for a single European currency by 1999, Juppe has frozen state salaries and plans to cut about 5,500 jobs this year.