France faces week of strike disruption


France faces a week of disruption from transport and public sector strikes as unions wage a slew of separate campaigns against President Nicolas Sarkozy's labour reforms.

Hundreds of domestic and international flights were cancelled for a third day today as Air France pilots pursued a four-day strike, due to end tomorrow.

Travel chaos could spread to the railways on Tuesday when train drivers stage the first of two actions called by separate unions for the same week, while on Thursday many schools could be closed when teachers demonstrate over 2009 budget cuts.

On Saturday, postal services face disruption over plans to prepare the La Poste mail service for partial privatisation.

The head of one of France's biggest unions, CGT leader Bernard Thibault, urged Mr Sarkozy to pay the same attention to workers' demands as he and other leaders have devoted on the world stage to finding a solution to the financial crisis.

"It is urgent to tackle the social situation," Mr Thibault told France Info radio.

Mr Sarkozy is due to return to Paris tomorrow or Tuesday after a private visit to New York following this weekend's economic Group of 20 summit, which he labelled a "historic" success.

According to an opinion poll for today's Journal du Dimanchenewspaper, the conservative leader's popularity rating recovered one percentage point to 44 per cent this month after falling sharply since he was elected last year.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon saw his rating improve two points to 55 per cent.

Mr Sarkozy has denounced the excesses of capitalism following the worst financial crisis in decades but has angered unions by spending billions on bailing out banks while dismantling part of France's 35-hour work week and relaxing other restrictions.

The series of strikes comes as leading unions jostle for position in elections for labour arbitration panels on December 3rd.