France 'tainted' by strikes and rubbish ahead of Euro 2016 kick-off
Published 10/06/2016 | 08:56
The mayor of Paris has promised to clear the capital's streets of rubbish after 12 days of strikes that left a smelly mess - and further clouded France's image as it hosts Euro 2016.
Unions remain determined to keep up strikes at the main Paris waste incineration plant, on commuter trains taking fans to the opening match, and on Air France flights starting on Saturday.
The strikes are part of months of nationwide union action aimed at forcing the government to scrap a bill extending the work week and making lay-offs easier.
A glimmer of hope emerged in Friday in the national dispute as the labour minister and the leader of the powerful CGT union said they would be ready to meet.
That would be a big relief for unpopular President Francois Hollande, who needs for football tournament to be a success. France had already been on high alert for potential extremist violence around the tournament - the country remains in a state of emergency after deadly attacks last year - and the strikes and protests have added to strain on the authorities.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the city has brought in dozens of extra waste trucks over the past two days to clear the accumulated rubbish, which is getting especially smelly in the warm, muggy weather.
"All the garbage will be collected today," she told BFM television.
The challenge will be finding a place to dump it: Striking workers have blocked the main waste plant serving the city for several days.
Baptiste Talbot of the CGT union said Ms Hidalgo's prognosis was "a bit optimistic", but did not object to the move. "We want to maintain pressure with the strike, but we are sensitive to sanitary issues."
He said the city could requisition private companies to clear streets normally served by public workers, and then truck the waste to other regions or plants where workers are not on strike.
France's transport chief threatened to force striking train drivers back to work to ensure transport for fans attending the tournament. Alain Vidalies, junior minister for transport, said on Europe-1 radio that the government could use a special measure to force workers back to the job if things worsen on Saturday.
For the opening match, railway and subway authorities promised extra trains to bypass the strikers and carry tens of thousands of people to the the Stade de France to watch France play Romania.
About half of regional trains and 20% of high-speed trains were cancelled on Friday. Participation in the train strike appears to have diminished in recent days, with only 7.1% of workers taking part on Friday, the SNCF management said in a statement.
Labour minister Myriam El Khomri said she was ready to meet the head of the leftist CGT union at the forefront of the protest movement, according to French media reports. CGT tweeted that its leader, Philippe Martinez, is "disposed" to meet Ms Khomri as soon as this weekend.
Euro 2016 organiser Jacques Lambert said the strikes have already stained the event, and are especially hurting working class fans who depend on public transport.
"The image given is not the one we wanted," he said on France-Inter radio.