REPEAT-Defiant Marseille, heart of France’s social unrest

* Marseille hit by succession of strikes over pension reform

* City ills hurt French business image abroad -diplomat

(Repeats story that moved on Oct 18 with no changes)

By Jean-Francois Rosnoblet

MARSEILLE, France Oct 18 (BestGrowthStock) – Garbage piled in the
streets, oil tankers idling off the coast, lines of anxious
drivers at petrol stations: the port of Marseille is making a
name for itself as the capital of France’s social unrest.

As strikes against pension reform sweep France, the
country’s second city and biggest port has claimed centre stage
with its three-week-old dockworker strike depleting fuel depots
just as refinery workers joined nationwide strikes over
pensions.

Hit by rail strikes, postal strikes, street marches and
school disruption this week, on top of a long-running garbage
collectors’ strike and blockaded docks, the Mediterranean city
is getting such a name for resistance to reform that mayor
Jean-Claude Gaudin has snapped back at unions.

“The CGT is killing the port of Marseille,” the mayor, from
the ruling conservative party, told French television, referring
to one of the biggest unions. He said sending schoolchildren
onto the street to protest was “staggeringly” irresponsible.

His comments came as budget airline Ryanair (RYA.I: )
threatened to wrap up its Marseille operation in a spat over
contracts, potentially affecting 1,000 people who work there or
in related sectors. This came shortly after news of the closure
of a Unilever (ULVR.L: ) tea factory that employed 182 people.

Long known for its rebellious streak, Marseille is becoming
symbolic of France’s unwillingness to bend its labour rules and
social benefits in line with other European countries, something
that highlights the concerns of foreign companies looking for
places to invest.

“It looks bad — it makes Marseille look like an undeveloped
city,” said a Western diplomat who declined to be named.

“I’m sure they’re snickering in Rotterdam and Hamburg —
this is not good for France’s image abroad.”

“THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD”

The port dispute in Marseille began three weeks ago when
dockworkers at Fos-Lavares oil port downed tools over the
privatisation of unloading operations and the loss of some of
their job privileges.

Managers at the port area went for an ironic response,
publishing a spoof job ad in business daily Les Echos mocking
port workers as spoiled and unaware of their good fortune.

Titled “The Best Job In the World”, it listed alleged job
conditions for port workers including a 4,000-euro ($5,561)
monthly salary, 18-hour weeks, and a guarantee of lifetime
employment.

Blocking the terminal, which feeds oil through a pipeline to
four major refineries, the strike has left dozens of tankers and
cargo vessels idling in the Mediterranean.

The ships can be seen dotted around the scenic port of
Marseille, known for its seedy backstreets where locals drink
pastis and play cards in cafes.

Traffic crawled on a nearby coast road last week as drivers
craned to catch sight of the ships or stopped to take photos.

Drivers in this city of 850,000 were queuing for fuel long
before shortages hit the rest of the country this week as
refinery workers walked out in protest at a government plan to
raise the retirement age by two years.

Marseille residents also are dealing with an unrelated
garbage collectors’ strike that has clogged much of Marseille
with stinking refuse. A similar strike last year saw 7,000
tonnes of garbage pile up before it broke.

Ryanair’s threat to close its Marseille base followed a
dispute with French authorities over how its workers are paid.

REPEAT-Defiant Marseille, heart of France’s social unrest