Highways Jammed With Working Class Heroes

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PARIS: France’s economy was Monday held hostage to a labor dispute as striking truckers used their vehicles to barricade highways. In a peculiarly French tradition, the public is supporting the strikers despite the disruption. Indeed, reports TIME Paris correspondent Bruce Crumley, despite the drivers’ illegal action, even the government blames the contretemps on the intransigence of the employers.

The strike is a major test for the Socialist government, brought to power by voters’ rejection of its predecessor’s high-handed austerity measures. “This government places a premium on achieving social tranquillity as a condition for carrying out the austerity measures necessary to qualify for the Euro,” says Crumley. With France supplying the arterial transport route for all of western Europe — last year’s French truckers’ strike badly bruised economies throughout the region — there is strong pressure on the government to find a quick resolution.

“The government will step in, through a combination of pressure and incentives such as tax rebates, to push for an early resolution,” says Crumley. Still, he adds, experts believe the dispute could last up to 12 days — a long time, even in a nation that, as De Gaulle complained, produces over 400 different cheeses.