Jean-Paul Pelissier / Reuters

Tempers flare, tires burn in French taxi, aviation strikes

Drivers want compensation for business lost to taxi app companies; air traffic controllers seek better pay

Striking taxi drivers in France blocked key roads and set fire to tires on a "black Tuesday" that saw simultaneous strikes by air traffic controllers, civil servants, hospital workers and teachers.

Some 300 taxi drivers furious over competition from non-licensed private hire cabs blocked the capital's ring road at a key intersection in the west of the city, lighting fires and throwing smoke bombs.

"Today our survival is at stake, we are fed up of meetings and negotiations," said Ibrahima Sylla, spokesman of the Taxis de France collective.

Nineteen protesters were arrested, police said.

Police said a total of 1,200 taxi drivers were protesting in various parts of Paris, while their colleagues also disrupted traffic in Toulouse, northern Lille and southern Marseille.

They are seeking compensation for business lost to taxi app company Uber and similar firms.

Despite a year-old ban on the low-cost UberPOP service, taxi dispatchers in Paris say business has shrunk 20 to 30 percent.

Uber continued to run UberPOP service in France for several months following the ban, leading to a spate of violent protests by taxi unions in June.

The San Francisco-based company finally shut down UberPOP in July after two of its French bosses were arrested and charged with "misleading commercial practices (and) complicity in the illegal exercise of the taxi profession."

Meanwhile, due to a trike by air traffic controllers over pay and conditions, one in five flights were canceled in and out of Orly airport, south of Paris, as well as Paris' main Charles de Gaulle airport. At Orly, one protester was injured in the leg when a shuttle bus forced its way through a blockade. Police said the bus driver was arrested. 

Air France had said it would operate all of its long-haul flights and more than 80 percent of its short- and medium-haul flights in France and elsewhere in Europe, but that "last-minute delays or cancelations cannot be ruled out."

Noting that the controllers' strike coincided with the taxi drivers' action, the airline warned its passengers that access to the Paris airports, as well as those of Toulouse and Bordeaux in the southwest and Marseille in the south, could be "greatly disrupted."

Budget airline EasyJet said it had canceled 35 flights, mainly within France but also to or from Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

The controllers' unions want to be exempted from proposed changes to how salaries are calculated, which they say would hurt their purchasing power.

Meanwhile, some 5.6 million civil servants have been called to participate in an industrial action to protest against labor reforms proposed last September affecting pay and career advancement.

Kindergarten and primary school teachers were striking Tuesday for higher pay, with about a third, or 100,000, expected to take part, according to their union, which predicts a stay-away rate of up to 45 percent in Paris.

The leftist FO union says that, with inflation, a July 2010 freeze on the index used to calculate salaries has cost civil servants eight percent of their purchasing power.

The striking unions — who led up to 120 demonstrations across France on what the daily Le Parisien dubbed "black Tuesday" — also claim they are protesting against job losses totaling some 150,000 since 2007 and say the hospital sector is especially in need of new jobs.

Civil Service Minister Marylise Lebranchu said Tuesday that negotiations in February could not be expected to lead to a "big rise (in the salary index) because we are in a difficult situation."

She said austerity measures involving the civil service had achieved $7.6 billion in savings.

Jean-Marc Canon of the hardline CGT union said Monday any increase would be "light years from what we want," demanding that wages keep up with inflation as well as "significant measures aimed at recovering the losses since 2010."

Travelers on Tuesday may also encounter roadblocks set up by a different set of protesters: farmers upset over falling prices.

The farmers' unions are demanding that distributors and major food companies pay equitable prices for their produce and livestock.

Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse

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