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Mardi Noir

photo, cafe terrace, bastill, nuit blanche

Bastille café early during Nuit Blanche.

And the Other Strike

Paris:– Monday, 3. October 2005:– The big strike of the rentrée started tonight and will continue through tomorrow and will taper off on Thursday. While it is impossible to say exactly what will be affected, the advance warnings cover just about all sectors of activity.

This means Métro, buses, the RER, suburban trains and trains throughout France, plus air controllers. Teachers, sailors, nurses, the post office, maybe some bank staff, maybe everybody except right–wing members of the government – are expected to be on strike tomorrow.

All unions are taking part. Le Parisien's headline today is Mardi Noir in solid back letters. Thephoto, brazil, nuit blanche, les halles unions, which have the organizing ability, are hoping that a million workers will take part in the national work stoppage, involving 144 manifestations around France.

The Brazilian stage at Les Halles.

Just the same, a massive strike does not mean a total strike. Public transport in Paris is expected to be running two trains out of three for the Métro but on some lines it will only be one train out of four. Two out of three buses in circulation are also expected.

On the SNCF train lines about 60 percent of the regular traffic may be expected, but certain lines will have lesser frequencies. One Eurostar train may be dropped from the schedule. Other lines will have frequency rates ranging from 25 to 60 percent.

The unitary march of dissatisfied workers and the unemployed in Paris is slated to begin at République at 14:30. The course of the parade will be to Bastille and then on the Nation, by way of the Gare de Lyon.

Private sector workers are expected to join the public sector workers in the mass walkout tomorrow. It is not only civil servants who have had minimal pay increases for the past five or six years.

Meanwhile, last week labor problems bubbled over with the SNCM ferry service, between Marseille and Corsica. As of today this conflict is on 'hold' while everybody goes on strike. The STC union has said they are ready to resume on Wednesday if the government hasn't anything new to offer by then.

The items below are dated from latest to earliest. Reading from the bottom up will give you the events day&ndash:by–day.

Is Corsica French?

Friday, September 30:– If you were thinking that the recapture of the SNCM ferry by government GIGN commandos put an end to the labor conflict, you are obviously unaware of Corsican attitudes. In Toulon late Wednesday, military authorities released 30 members of the Syndicat des Travailleurs Corses – STC – and kept four in custody. Shortly afterwards union sympathizers battled with police in Bastia, on Corsica.

On Thursday morning in Paris prime minister Dominique de Villepin announced yet another new ownership montage for the troubled ferry line, proposing 70 percent private ownership, 25 percent for the state and 5 percent for the employees. This was rejected by the general secretary of the CGT marine unit in Marseille, Jean–Paul Israël, and the union continued its strike against the SNCM ferries.

Then the national boss of the CGT, Bernard Thibault, said the prime minister's plan was 'very far away' from what the CGT expected. He demanded clarification of the state's intentions. The marine section of the CFDT also expressed its opposition to the government plan, as well as did the FO.

In the course of Thursday the four sailors held in custody had an initial hearing in court in Marseille. On Corsica tension increased to the point of a Soviet–made anti–tank rocket being fired at the prefecture in Ajaccio Thursday evening, causing a spectacular explosion but no injuries. This action was attributed to 'disorganized' members of the Corsican independence movement, not to strikers.

As of Friday no ships have reached or left Corsica for three days. The last port in operation, at Bonifacio, was blocked this morning, cutting off sailings to and from Sardinia. The airport at Ajaccio is having difficulties and there are no flights at all operating at Bastia.

Fuel truck drivers, members of the STC union, were blocking the exits at the two fuel depots on the island and gas stations are running low on petrol. More than 80 other trucks were stopped at Furiani near Bastia, causing huge traffic jams. Near Ajaccio's airport barricades were hindering passenger access. Authorities estimated that more than 4000 vacationers were stranded on Corsica, unable to leave.

About 100 SNCM sailors, of all unions, were outside the Palais de Justice in Marseille this morning, awaiting the court's decision about the detention of Alain Mosconi, his brothers Jean–Marc and Patrick, and Félix Dagregorio, all STC militants, and supposedly the ringleaders of the ferry hijacking. Several hundred others, responding to a call by the CGT, gathered in the port area of La Joliette.

In Paris Jacques Chirac 'strongly condemned' the rocket attack and minister of the interior Nicolas Sarkozy said he wouldn't let 'public order' on Corsica degenerate. Dominique de Villepin said everything would be done to expose the authors to the judicial system.

In Brussels the European commissioner for transport, Jacques Barrot – who is French – said thatphoto, space ship, nuit blanche, les halles the state had to reduce its capital investment in SNCM 'over time.' France's minister of finance Thierry Breton, also in Brussels, said that the state's participation would have to continue, 'at least until the company's finances improved.'

Very spacy near the Fontaine des Innocents.

The SNCM ferry line has operated in the red for years, and is currently in a 76 million euro restructuring plan approved by Brussels in 2003 that was supposed to lead to profitability by 2006. Given the charged feelings over the past few days, there seems to be a possibility that Brussels will agree to an 'actualization' of this ongoing plan.

Late news from Marseille tonight announced the liberation of the four STC sailors who participated in the hijack of the ferry Pascal Paoli. The quartet has been charged, and released under judicial control until their trial over the objections of the prosecutor. They received an enthusiastic welcome on arriving in Corsica.

What's Right With Corsica?

While a slim majority of Corsicans are believed to be opposed to full independence for this island in the Mediterranean, a government plan to unite the island's two departments was narrowly defeated in a vote in 2003. Since Paris dislikes local autonomy, it is possible that the government didn't try too hard to sell the idea.

France gained Corsica from Genoa in 1768 in return for a debt, but even back then some Corsicans were more interested in independence. In order to buy loyalty France offered Corsican nobles the opportunity of taking French titles, and this is essentially how Napoleon became French.

Called the 'Isle of Beauty' Corsica is sparsely populated, especially in its rugged interior, and is not defaced with walls of concrete silos for tourists along its shores.

In principle Corsica is a region like any other except that it is an island 160 km south of the Cöte d'Azur, and only nine km north of peaceful Sardinia, which is governed by Italy.

In theory Corsica is quite desirable because tourist development is strictly controlled – by Paris – and many local conflicts involve illegal building and temporary facilities. In fact the island's economy is depressed, compared to other Mediterranean islands where development is not so closely controlled.

It is possible that non–Corsicans see a benefit in the lack of development, mainly as tourists from the mainland. The major employer is probably the state and its administrations This system keeps native Corsicans from becoming moguls in the tourist business.

But if the island is being 'saved' from development, for whom is it being 'saved,' and for how long?

Commandos Seize Strikers

Wednesday, September 28:– Five helicopters carrying government quick-reaction anti–terrorist GIGN forces swiftly converged on the hijacked ferry this morning off the port of Bastia and recaptured it from the strikers who offered no resistance.

The SNCM ferry, the Pascal Paoli, arrived near Bastia in Corsica last night but stayed offshore, controlled by the strikers, on account of CRS troops occupying the port. The GIGN commandosphoto, saint merri, nuit blanche staged their raid to recapture the vessel in daylight – quickly seizing the striking hijackers and handcuffing them. Reports said no firearms were used.

At Saint–Merri near Beaubourg.

After the action which took only a few minutes, the ferry turned away from Corsica to return to the mainland, most likely to Toulon where the French navy has its major Mediterranean base.

Corsican protestors occupied Bastia's port and nationalist politicians of the Unione Naziunale de l'Assemblée de Corse denounced the government action, claiming that an agreement had been brokered on Tuesday evening that called for the hijackers to return the ferry to government control. In return they were guaranteed that there would be no police action and no arrests.

The port of Marseille was reported to be still blocked by striking port workers of all unions and SNCM ferry crews.

Strikers Snatch Ship

Tuesday, September 27:– Listening to radio France–Info news earlier today, I became worried about the state of France. The radio reported that striking ferry sailors had seized one of the SNCM ships and were sailing it to Corsica. This was a very brief report, followed by an update from the Paris bourse, with sports news and weather.

'Sort of casual,' I thought, 'for what is obviously a major escalation in the ongoing war that other countries would call labor relations.' Strikers in France, used to being ignored by management, are capable of inventing unusual and interesting tactics to get attention, but sailing off with a whole ship?

It's like piracy. What is the prosecutor in Marseille doing? Where is the navy, or sea–going police? What will the Prefect of Corsica say about it? Instead of answers, I learned that the municipal council of Perpignan in Languedoc–Roussillon had rejected the notion of renaming the region 'Septimanie.'

It all goes back to the end of August or the beginning of September in 415, when Ataulf was assassinated in Barcelona. It was a time of decline for the Romans, in this area called Septimanie on account of the legion stationed there, or it relates to a union of seven bishops at the time of Visigothic kings. Skip ahead 1589 years to 2004 when Georges Frêche gets elected as the head of the region, and he wants to bring the old name back – but residents, many of whom are Catalan are against the idea. They think the old name sounds like 'septicémie,' or a serious infection.

Meanwhile the strikers are sailing across the bright blue Mediterranean towards Corsica, where they are expected to arrive about 22:30 tonight. Police forces on the troubled island were guarding another ferry belonging to the private line, Corsica Ferries, after STC and CGT strikers had attempted to block loading.

As evening fell more details have emerged on the TV–news. The general secretary of the Corsica–based STC union, Alain Mosconi, told AFP at Ajaccio about noon that his members had 'gotten under way' with the mixed ferry, Pascal Paoli. TV–news reported that 30 unarmed but hooded men boarded the ferry that had a crew of about 60 aboard.

The ferry seizure came after battles last night in the port of Marseille between the CRS units in full riot gear and using teargas against CGT strikers. The confrontation involved about 200 strikers and the police which led to the arrest of two strikers.

This in turn set off a blockage of the entire ports of Marseille and Fos–sur–Merphoto, hotel d'albret, nuit blanche on Tuesday, closing down cargo, container, mineral and petroleum shipments. A small group of strikers arrived in Nice Tuesday morning but SNCM had already moved its high–speed ferry 'Liamone' offshore. At other ports a total of nine SNCM ferries were idle.

In the Marais at the city's cultural HQ.

The events this week follow a series of strikes of the embattled ferry service which is owned by the state. The unions oppose a government plan to hand over control to a private investment group, Butler Capital Partners.

Tonight news agencies were announcing that the government has decided to go ahead with its deal with the private investors, saying that their offer was the 'most acceptable.' The state is expected to continue as a minority shareholder. Butler Capital has indicated that it will lay off 350 to 400 sailors out of a total of 2400 who work for SNCM.

In the meantime, somewhere off the coast of Corsica, the hijackers have claimed that they have not stolen' the ferry and that they 'are not mutineers.' Union members and the police are waiting for their arrival in the port of Bastia, where CGT marine members have already occupied the SNCM offices.

In Marseille the court is saying that the hijacking is a 'flagrant crime' no different from hijacking an airliner. A judicial source told AFP that conviction could result in a 20 year prison term. Maritime gendarmes are to investigate.

The two CGT delegates arrested Monday night have had their detention prolonged, but should appear in court on Wednesday. They risk a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. A CRS troop protected the commissariat where the two are being held. Union members will meet early Wednesday morning to decide whether the port strike will continue.

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