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Labor Unions - Page 7

“Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent
sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making
a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions. One thing that corporations
do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.” - Molly Ivins

Union-Busting = Death - "Massey has faced proposed fines nearing $2 million…and been cited over 1,300 times"

Harry Bridges: Working-Class Hero - "He sought the best of all possible worlds"

State by State, Unions Matter - "Union members invariably have better pay and benefits than nonunion workers"

A Union That Made Black History - "The contract pulled the porters out of poverty"

Rembering Howard Zinn - "And he says that it’s still the people...who make change"

Strike at Northern Tool & Equipment

Employee Advocate – – June 12, 2005

Thursday, Northern Tool & Equipment employees went on strike, according to The Charlotte Observer. About 100 employees picketed outside a Fort Mill, S. C., distribution warehouse. The Teamsters Union members said that they were striking because Northern had refused to negotiate with them.

Rubinelle Golden, an employee for 7 years, said "The company doesn't want to give us anything.”

Ted Russell, Charlotte-area Teamsters Union president, said "We don't want to strike anymore than anyone else…this company has been nonunion for a long time, and they treat these people like dogs. They're still trying to get away with that."

Northern agreed to go back to negotiations and the strike ended Friday. Without the Teamsters Union, employees would have complained only to each other, and Northern would have stonewalled forever.

US Airways Payback

Employee Advocate – – December 27, 2004

US Airways management thought it had a good racket going. It would take away employee benefits and then go back and take away even more. Before the dust had settled, more benefits would be taken. It was a never ending cycle of cuts in benefits. Executives all seem to have a blissful belief that they can never suffer any consequences from abusing workers.

US Airways was ready to rake in big bucks over the Christmas weekend - big bucks that would be shared with only the executives of course. But as luck would have it, employees began calling sick. That is certainly understandable. They were no doubt sick of all the benefit looting.

It’s too bad that thousands of travelers had to sleep in airport terminals over the Christmas weekend. But you see, an airline just cannot operate without employees. The travelers can thank the management of US Airways for their predicament.

65 flights were cancelled on Thursday, 176 on Friday and 143 Saturday. Managers were serving as flight attendants. What a joyous day!

Other airlines were affected by bad weather. But US Airways was afflicted with bad weather and bad management.

Spokeswoman Amy Kudwa tried to pour on the happy talk: "We have no reason to believe an organized job action has taken place."

But then she admitted an "unusually high number of sick calls."

US Airways said in a statement: "We are embarrassed by the situation, especially given the holidays and how important travel is to our customers at this time of the year."

The employees have been embarrassed by their poor management for some time.

The airline also said that efforts to recover from the bad weather "were complicated when some of our employees chose to call in sick at record numbers over the weekend."

Management expected workers to always be at its beck and call. Employees expected to get the benefits that they were promised. Why is management always so surprised when payback comes?

Sickening US Airways

Sickening US Airways

Employee Advocate – – December 3, 2004

It is proven medical fact that if corporations do not make you sick, you cannot be made sick! Take US Airways for instances. It has cut pension and other employee benefits, while the executives never consider giving up a dime. It is the same sorry story. Employees have earned specific pension benefits through years of service. But the corporation schemes for ways not to pay the deferred compensation that has been earned.

US Airways has out done itself by using the courts to weasel out of paying benefits that were guaranteed by union contracts! Now the airline wants the bankruptcy judge to cancel the labor contracts with machinists, flight attendants, reservation agents and gate workers, according to the Associated Press.

US Airways wants to cut the pay of some groups by 25 percent or more. The employees have already had “temporary” pay cuts of 21 percent. US Airways wants to cut employee and retiree benefits by an estimated $1 billion a year. Oh yes, US Airways wants to terminate the remaining pension plans of flight attendants and machinists.

The Communications Workers of America and the Association of Flight Attendants have threatened to strike if their contracts are canceled. Management has protested that the unions cannot do that.

The corporation is trying to use the courts to destroy the employees’ legal protection. At the same time, it is trying to use the law to prevent the employees from striking.

This is a most glaring example of a corporation wanting to have things both ways. It wants union contracts cancelled, but it wants union laws to prevent the employees from striking! They need to shut the doors. These clowns could not run a pickle factory. Would you really want to fly in an US Airways plane after all this turmoil?

This case is uncharted water; no corporation has ever tired anything so insane.

Pilots' Pension Plan to be Terminated

Wal-Mart Employees to get Unions

Employee Advocate – – November 28, 2004

Wal-Mart employees will now be allowed to form labor unions, according to BBC News. The catch is that the new unions will only be recognized in China. Employees at only one Wal-Mart store currently have representation. That store is in Canada.

It is the irony of ironies that the Chinese government had to pressure Wal-Mart into accept unions. China's state-run labor union had threatened legal action if employees were not allowed to form unions. When it comes to employee rights, the United Stated does not lead the world.

A state-run labor union does not sound like an ideal condition, but it is still a noteworthy event.

China Comes Full Circle on Labor

Entergy Ratifies IBEW Contract

Employee Advocate – – October 11, 2004

Entergy Gulf States and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2286 have reached a contract agreement, according to the Associated Press and the Southeast Texas News Group. 820 transmission, distribution, gas operations, customers service support and corporate business services who work for Entergy Gulf States in Louisiana and Texas are represented.

Randy Albin, IBEW business manager, said that the contact enhances employee job security, including subcontractors. A wage increase will be retroactive to August 15.

Full detail were not disclosed by either side, but Entergy confirmed that pay raises and enhanced benefits were included in the contract. IBEW rejected the initial offer because the company wanted to increase health-care costs and weaken the job-protection clause.

Joe Domino, president and CEO of Entergy Texas, said "This contract is the culmination of hard work of both the union and management bargaining teams. The new contract has many positive features and supports our commitment to continue to provide reliable electricity and excellent service to customers."

If contracts are so bad, why do CEO’s insist on having one?

New Union Contract in NC

Employee Advocate – – September 18, 2004

A new union contract was signed this week in North Carolina, according to The New York Times. This is noteworthy because North Carolina is a very anti-union state. It is more noteworthy because the contract does not cover American workers! These are definitely interesting times.

The North Carolina Growers Association signed a new contract that covers 8,500 guest workers from Mexico. The Association represents 1,000 farmers. This is the first such contract for guest workers in the US.

Mount Olive Pickle Company signed a separate contract with the union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. This ended a five-and-a-half-year boycott campaign against the company.

This development has so many crosscurrents that it is hard to fathom the potential repercussions. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee had accused Mount Olive of using growers who mistreated their workers. The National Council of Churches supported the boycott, citing squalid housing and worker deaths from heat prostration or pesticides exposure.

Bill Bryan, Mount Olive's president, said that it was time-consuming and annoying to have to respond to questions about why his company was being boycotted. Why, the poor dear!

It was stated that North Carolina farmers have a history of hostility to unions. That is a gross understatement. The entire state of North Carolina is hostile to unions, and it has laws on the books to prove it!

The union and growers' association are going to jointly contact the Mexican government. They want to discuss alleged graft, bribery and blackmail by recruiters of migrant workers. As usual, it is the illegal immigrants who catch the worst end of everything.

This is where the plot thickens. The Employee Advocate has no quarrel with foreigners in the country legally. But those who enter the country illegally have made a voluntary choice to live outside the law. They put themselves in a position to be exploited. Lawbreakers need not expect to be saved by the law.

This development brings up an interesting question. If unions are now good for guest workers in North Carolina, why are they bad for North Carolina citizens?

Kerry Sides with Labor Unions

Employee Advocate – – July 2, 2004

Sunday, Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Pat McCrory was in Boston for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He was quoted by the Boston Herald as faulting John Kerry for civil defense comments made 22 years ago. McCrory was acting as messenger boy for the Republican National Committee, in delivering the comments.

The Boston Police Patrolmen's Association has not has a contract in almost two years. Talks are not going well with the firefighters’ union either.

Senator John Kerry was invited to the meeting, but refused to cross a union picket line.

How do you suppose McCrory made it into the meeting, without crossing the line? Of course, he would not give crossing a picket line a second thought.

Two years ago, The Charlotte Observer reported that McCrory opposed recognizing police and firefighter unions for negotiations on wages, benefits and workplace conditions. It seems that North Carolina has a law that forbids local officials from making any contract or agreement with a labor union!

Taking It Personally

NLRB Accuses Nuclear Management

Employee Advocate – – June 26, 2004

The Star Tribune reported that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has accused Nuclear Management Co. of violating federal labor laws. Nuclear Management Co. operates Prairie Island nuclear plant for Xcel Energy Inc.

NLRB charges include failing to negotiate in good faith with employees and withholding wage increases for workers who voted for union representation.

Vince Guertin, business manager of IBEW Local 949, said "For the past two years, this company's whole strategy has been to delay, delay, delay and to frustrate workers' attempts to organize…We believe it's ill-advised to have disgruntled workers at a nuclear power plant, given the nature of the work involved. What the company has done has made an already stressful work environment even more stressful."

NLRB also accused Nuclear Management of withholding raises at Point Beach nuclear plant in Wisconsin, after workers voted for union representation. Point Beach is operated for Wisconsin Electric Power Co.

Randy Sawicki, is the business representative for IBEW Local 2150, representing 115 Point Beach workers. He said “Once a union is certified, the company cannot make unilateral changes in wages, hours and working conditions."

Indian Point Tentative Settlement

Employment and Health Security

Employee Advocate – – May 26, 2004

SBC workers and retirees will be rewarded with increased health security, according to the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The CWA’s tentative 5-year agreement will also strengthen employment security, improve wages, and improve pensions.

These improvement did not come falling out of the sky. The improvement came because 100,000 SBC workers went on strike to achieve them.

Current employees are guaranteed not to face a layoff for the life of the agreement. Hundreds of workers, who have been laid off, will be rehired. Health care benefits will continue to be fully paid by SBC!

Vectren Energy Workers Strike

Employee Advocate – – December 30, 2003

Vectren Energy employees are on strike, according to The Courier-Journal and The Indianapolis Star. Employees are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1393 and the United Steelworkers of America locals 12213 and 7441. Workers are picketing the Vectren Energy site in Clarksville.

Employees rejected the contract for the usual reasons: increasing health insurance costs and retirement benefits concerns. Employees would have been paying more for less medical coverage. Not only would these employees have been “doing more with less,” they would have been paying more for less!

Union Represented Employees Will Keep Pensions

Employee Advocate – – October 6, 2003

Avaya Inc. announced that it will freeze pension accruals of U. S. salaried employees, according to Reuters. Avaya can be given credit for being more honest than the corporations that convert decent pensions to cash balance plans. Avaya did not try to sell the “mobile employee” hogwash, and pretend to be doing the employees a favor. It admitted that the reason for the pension change is plain and simple - to cut costs.

The net results are identical for many employees forced into a cash balance plan. Their pension accruals may be frozen for years. Many employees will leave the company before they start receiving the reduced cash balance accruals. For these workers, their pension was effectively terminated on the day of the conversion. The only difference is that corporations that convert to a cash balance plan try to hide the fact that many employees will lose pension money. If the converting corporations are questioned by the employees, they will babble some meaningless rhetoric about the “mobile employee.”

Corporations will rattle on about “portable cash balance pensions.” At least one corporation, Duke Energy, will not even let an employee exiting the company have his cash balance amount, if he is under age 55. The only “portability” of such restrictive plans is when the pension money migrates from employees to corporate executives!

The convolutions of cash balance pension conversions allow corporations to escape the 50% penalty on corporate gains from pension terminations. Cash balance conversions also allow corporations to slip out of paying the early retirement subsidy. These are the real reasons that corporations love cash balance conversions. The conversions have nothing to do with doing favors for the, so called, “mobile employee.” Corporations do not care if the mobile employee, or non-mobile employee, falls dead in his tracks - they want the pension money!

Whenever a corporation tinkers with a pension, 99% of the time it is purely to take money from future retirees. As the retirees get less, the executives stand to get more money. Any other reason, manufactured by the corporations, is subterfuge. The most out of touch executives even try to sell the smaller pension as a benefit to employees!

These hopeless executives:

  • have been breathing corporate hype for so long that they do not recognize truth from fiction,

  • are compulsive liars, who would not know the truth if it bit them in the buttocks,

  • are so blinded by greed that they do not realize what they are saying,

  • think that their employees are total idiots, or

  • are shysters who deliberately seek to deceive employees and deprive them of their rightful pensions through covert and legally questionable means.

The pension accrual freeze will begin for 8,300 Avaya employees at the end of the year. The end of the year will mark the end of the pension for these unfortunate employees.

Avaya confessed that the goal is to “save” $25 to $30 million a quarter. It refused to reveal how much of this money would come from the employees’ pensions. The company hasten to add that not all of the “savings” would come from the pension fund – there will be job cut also.

It is important to note that unionized employees will not lose any pension money. The pensions of Avaya employees, who are union members, are protected by collective bargaining agreements.

Employees who are not unionized are effectively saying that it is okay for the CEO to do anything he wants with their pensions, their jobs, and their lives.

Protect Workers' Rights

The Washington Post – by Bruce Raynor - September 7, 2003

Monday, September 1, 2003; Page A25

This summer Pillowtex Corp., successor to the century-old firm Fieldcrest Cannon, the largest unionized textile company in the country, closed its 16 textile plants and let go almost 6,500 employees in 10 states. In North Carolina, where the largest plants were located, it was the single biggest layoff in state history.

Pillowtex is only one of hundreds of textile mills that have closed in the past several years. For me, the Pillowtex shutdown was especially painful because for 20 years I was involved in efforts to organize a union there. In 1999 the workers finally succeeded. These workers overcame illegal threats, harassment and attempts to racially divide the workers. But the hardest-working, most dedicated workers in the world could not overcome a government policy that believes open markets and expanded trade, whatever the cost, are always justified. Problem is, the costs keep rising and the benefits never seem to trickle down.

The workers are now desperate. They received no severance payments. Their health insurance is gone.

Mortgages, car payments and taxes aren't being paid. Kannapolis, N.C., where Pillowtex is located, has always been a textile town. There are no other jobs available. And while the union is still trying to find a buyer for the company, the local government's response for economic development is to buy an ad in USA Today or the Wall Street Journal asking Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey or Warren Buffett to consider moving some of their business operations to Kannapolis.

What happened to Pillowtex workers is illustrative of destructive trends that threaten American prosperity and, indeed, the global economy.

Every manufacturing industry in the United States -- apparel, textiles, metals, paper, electronics -- has lost jobs in the past year. Over the past 36 months manufacturing employment has declined by 2.7 million. This is the longest decline since the Great Depression. The job crisis is not only in manufacturing. Since the economic recovery began, more than a million jobs have disappeared. Apparently the economy is doing well. Only workers are suffering.

The usual response of policymakers to manufacturing workers who have lost their jobs is to preach the virtues of education. Workers are told that if they would only acquire new skills, they would qualify for white-collar service jobs that are safe from the economic forces that have shifted millions of factory jobs to foreign countries. Perhaps that was once true.

Today white-collar jobs -- telemarketing, accounting, claims adjusting, home loan processing, architectural practices, radiographers and even some state and local government jobs -- are going offshore. In a survey of the world's 100 largest financial services firms, Deloitte Research found that these companies expect to shift $356 billion worth of operations and about 2 million jobs to low-wage countries over the next five years. These developments appear already to be affecting wages in some sectors. According to Sharon Marsh Roberts of the Independent Computer Consultants Association, outsourcing has forced down hourly wage rates by 10 percent to 40 percent for many U.S. computer consultants.

These trends also affect workers in developing countries. For example, since January 2000, 520 manufacturing plants have closed in Mexico, most of them moving to China. And in 2005, when all apparel and textile quotas are to be lifted, developing countries around the globe will be faced with a massive loss of jobs as the industry moves into China. For example, a United Nations study predicts that Bangladesh will lose 1 million apparel jobs when quotas are abolished. Many other countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe, where the apparel industry is the largest employer, will also suffer huge job losses when quotas are lifted.

As low as wages are in many developing countries, they can't compete with the pennies an hour paid in China. China scholar Anita Chan describes how different regions in China seek to maintain their attractiveness to foreign capital by lowering minimum wages and not enforcing labor regulations and health and safety laws. According to Chan, "though employment in the low-wage industries in China may be expanding, the wages of the workers in these industries are not rising, and for many of them have been falling." The benefits of globalization, Chan warns, "will not trickle down to those who make products."

So it turns out that workers in Kannapolis, N.C., Silicon Valley, Calif.; Juarez, Mexico, and Guangdong, China, have much in common. It is becoming increasingly clear that when wages and conditions of work are undercut in one part of the globe they will eventually be cut in others as well.

The downward spiral of lower wages and worsening working conditions is fueling popular skepticism over globalization. A prosperous economy requires that workers be able to buy the products that they produce.

That means we need rules for the global economy that protect workers' rights -- and not just in China -- we also need then in the United States.

The writer is president of UNITE, a union of 250,000 apparel, textile, laundry and distribution workers.

China Comes Full Circle on Labor

Employee Advocate – - August 29, 2003

Once if you wanted to kick a country around for being backward, oppressive, and anti-labor, there was always China. But at least in some ways, China has surpassed the United States. Who would have thought that China would have to coax U. S. corporations out of their anti-labor ways?

The Associated Press and Xinhua News Agency reported that China is pressuring Wal-Mart to establish labor unions for its employees!

Things are really that bad now. China is trying to help the U. S. with its human rights issues and oppression of employees. This is reminiscent of the Russian Communist party, President Robert Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, and Albanian politicians sarcastically offering to send election monitors to Palm Beach in 2000. The difference is that China really wants China Wal-Mart stores unionized.

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions said that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is depriving workers of their legal rights. Wal-Mart gets by with this in the U. S., and probably expected smooth sailing in China.

Xinhua quoted Feng Lijun, a Beijing ACFTU official, as saying “The best way to protect workers' rights is to sign group contracts with employers through trade unions, which can protect workers' rights involving wage negotiation, vacations, and discharge regulations.”

The first Wal-Mart store opened in Beijing in July. Mr. Lijun said “no progress has been made in establishing trade unions.”

Chinese law gives workers the right to join a union if more that 3 workers request one! U. S. laws are still skewed toward the corporations.

China has revised labor laws to protect workers' rights. These laws also punish companies that prevent workers from joining their trade union.

You must be thinking that there has to be some fine print somewhere, and there is. China's communist government allows only the All-China Federation of Trade Unions to organize workers. Alas, the unions are controlled by the government. Those who try to start independent unions are routinely arrested, and face harsh sentences.

China has not reached a state of perfection. But still, it has surged ahead in the last few years, as the U. S. has regressed in all labor issues.

Russia to Monitor American Elections?

‘Can You Hear Me Now?’

Employee Advocate – - August 23, 2003

Some corporate shenanigans are almost comical, except for the fact that they result in the loss of earned benefits and even employment. Verizon has outdone itself, according to a Communications Workers of America (CWA) message to members.

Verizon executives did not like the employees’ direct appeal to customers. Imagine that! Corporate types like to give the shareholders one song and dance, a different one to employees, a separate spiel to Congress, and yet another version to customers. The last thing they want is for the different groups to compare notes. It might reveal that someone is lying. It might reveal that someone is violating the law.

Verizon executives allegedly tapped into a private CWA conference call. Here’s the good part: CWA Executive Vice President Larry Cohen alleged to have said: “I hope Verizon can hear us now.” The executives took offense. They though that the alleged statement was too close the their commercial slogan “Can You Hear Me Now?.”

Here you have executives secretly wiretapping a private call between union members and they are offended by what it said.

It gets even better: “Verizon then used the information they illegally obtained to file a contempt of court action against CWA Executive Vice President Larry Cohen…”

CWA filed a lawsuit in New Jersey U.S. District Court against Verizon, charging two executives with “violations of the Omnibus Crime and Safe Streets Act by unlawfully and secretly accessing a private CWA conference call that was by invitation only.”

How all this began is a good story within itself. In 2002, Verizon laid off 3,400 employees. The Verizon vice chairman allegedly said “The bodies must go.”

On July 11, 2003, an arbitrator ruled that Verizon violated its contract and the employees were awarded their jobs and back pay. They returned to work on July 30, 2003.

The day after the ruling, Verizon demanded a change in job security language, so the employees could again be laid off. The change would have also put thousands of other jobs at risk. The CWA rejected the proposal.

The CWA recently pulled of a beautiful non-strike. The CWA was prepared to strike. Verizon knew how to deal with this – they loaded up on scabs to replace the union workers. But the CWA did not strike. They continued to work and let Verizon eat the $5 million a day bill to keep the scab workforce on standby!

Nice work. Can Verizon hear the CWA now?

Verizon Strike Settled in NC

Employee Advocate – - August 9, 2003

The Communications Workers of America reported that 150 employees of Verizon in North Carolina ratified a new contract to end a 12-week strike. Workers should return to work on Monday, August 11.

The employees won a wage increase, a pension boost, improved health care benefits, and improved job conditions. They were able to retain their emergency family medical leave provision and Short-term disability provisions.

CWA Local 3673 members had complained of burdensome levels of forced overtime. As part of the settlement, a joint task force will study overtime levels and make recommendations to solve the problem.

New benefits include: a hearing aid benefit, a adoption benefit, and a vision care plan. Dental benefits will be increased. The employees will receive an additional floating holiday. Employees also won more liberal options in designating a pension beneficiary.

The settlement is not too shabby. Consider that many unrepresented employees are losing pay, health, holiday and pension benefits each year.

One employee said "Verizon laid me off unexpectedly just before Christmas. Thanks to the CWA, I was reinstated on July 30."

2,300 Workers Must be Reinstated

Employee Advocate – - July 13, 2003

Corporations love arbitration. They feel that they have more “control” of the outcome and will get off the hook cheaply. How did the following arbitration work out for Verizon?

Verizon Must Reinstate 2,300 laid off workers, according to the New York Times. Shyam Das, the arbitrator, ruled that Verizon violated a job-security provision. Union workers can not be laid off unless it is necessary because of an external event. The employees will receive full back pay, less severance pay.

Employee Pamela Galpern said “It's a tremendous victory for the union and all the employees and families. These are workers who want to work. Verizon needs them to provide good service.”

A Verizon spokesman said back pay would be $25 million.

Larry Mancino, union official, said that back pay would be over $100 million. He added “It takes a real gutsy arbitrator to rule the way this arbitrator ruled.”

Pension Unrest in France

Employee Advocate – – May 16, 2003

The citizens of France are rising up against the attempts of government to reduce pension benefits. The New York Times reports that France is suffering the worst labor unrest in nearly a decade.

Sufficient numbers of workers are striking that the government has offered more talks with labor unions. A handful of strikers would be completely ignored. A strike that can paralyze the country will not be ignored. If the citizens of France want their pensions back, they will get them back – unless they cave in. If they cave in, things will be worse than ever.

Strike momentum is picking up. Five labor groups will protest pension “reform” on May 25. Schoolteachers, government gas and electricity workers will strike on Monday. More groups may join in.

Officials admitted to a strategy of offering trivial concessions in an attempt to break the union solidarity. Duke employees should, by now, be familiar with this one. Duke has been known to offer minor concessions to thwart an unionization effort. Afterwards, the concessions often evaporate.

The strike began on Tuesday. In the capital, bus, rail, and rail transportation was disrupted. Many flights were also canceled.

An attempt to tamper with pensions was defeated in 1995 by a 24 day national rail strike.

The crux of the problem is universal. People do not like to be lied to about their pension benefits for 20 or 30 years.

‘Retirement, Yes, But Before Death!’

New York Times – by Elaine Sciolino – May 14, 2003

It's May in France: Time for Striking Workers to Hit the Street

PARIS, May 13 — May in France is the month of lilies-of-the-valley, the first red cherries, the Cannes film festival — and workers' strikes.

Today, workers throughout the public sector heeded their unions' call to walk off the job to protest the center-right government's plan to reform the country's expensive and generous pension system.

The strikes halted planes, trains, subways and buses across the country, canceled the vast majority of classes in schools and universities, cut services at hospitals and prevented most newspaper distribution and mail delivery.

Aviation officials estimated that 80 percent of flights were grounded, while the state railway company canceled two-thirds of its mainline services. Workers at the state-owned Electricité de France join the walkout, sparking a 10 percent loss in electricity output.

Labeled "Black Tuesday" by the news media, the daylong shutdown, twinned with demonstrations in about 100 cities and towns across France, was described in an editorial in Wednesday's Le Monde as the biggest labor rebellion since three-week strikes over pension reform in 1995. Those so damaged the government of Prime Minister Alain Juppé that it lost a general election two years later.

About 850,000 people marched against the pension reform plan across the country, the Ministry of the Interior said; union officials put the figure at more than a million.

At the Place de la République, the meeting place for the masses of demonstrators in Paris, children rode on an inflatable carnival ride, while street vendors sold kebabs and French fries to hungry marchers and onlookers. The Communist Party of Maoist France sold copies of Mao Zedong's Little Red Book.

Among the chants were, "Retirement, yes, but before death!" and "Raffarin — geriatric minister!" a reference to Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

Firefighters pushed a life-size dummy of a dead fireman in a wheelchair, his face scarred and burnt. A group of hospital workers waved a banner showing tombstones and the inscription, "Cemetery of the heroic hospital workers who died in service."

Union officials hope to build on the momentum of today's strike and continue the labor disruption until the government backs down.

"All the ingredients are there for a general strike," Didier Le Rest, national secretary for railroad workers at the Confederation Générale du Travail, France's second-largest union, told Europe 1 radio. "If the government sticks to its current plans, we can expect more strikes that will spill over from one-day actions."

But the government, which has begun a $17 million public information campaign about its project, has no intention of abandoning it.

The government spokesman Jean-François Copé acknowledged after Mr. Raffarin met his ministers today, "This is an important day of course, but also a new chance for us to explain, explain, explain." He added: "We must keep explaining the issues at stake because we want to safeguard our pension system. If there is no reform, the system collapses."

In anticipation of today's strikes, Mr. Raffarin said on television last week that Parliament, not the street, would rule on the fate of the plan. "The street should express itself, but it's not the street that governs," he said.

One of the banners in today's demonstration read, "So isn't it the street that governs?"

The unions, which derive their power from the 5.4 million people employed directly or indirectly by the state, have been emboldened by an opinion poll on Monday indicating strong public sympathy for the cause of the protests.

According to a CSA survey in the popular daily tabloid Le Parisien, 64 percent of those polled either endorsed the protests or sympathized with the unions' goals. Sixty-five percent said they were worried about the future of their pensions.

Under the plan, which calls for modest reform, France aims to bring public sector workers — more than one-fourth of the French work force — in line with the private sector by 2008. That would force public sector workers to contribute to the state pension system for 40 years, up from 37-and-a-half years now.

Government support for early retirement will be phased out. Tax incentives will be introduced to attract workers to company-based savings programs like those in the United States, and workers will be allowed to get a pension "bonus" if they work beyond 40 years.

The government has already abandoned a proposal to increase contributions by civil servants. They will continue to pay 7.85 percent of their salary, 2 percentage points below the private sector.

Today's strike was not only crippling; it was also unsettling because of its ad hoc nature. Foreigners showed up for appointments about working papers at the Prefecture of Police only to discover that the offices were closed.

Students had no idea whether their teachers and professors, who themselves have been protesting over funding, would show up for class — and most did not. In the Aix-Marseille area, for example, more than 80 percent of teachers in elementary schools and more than 70 percent of high school teachers stayed off the job.

An official announcement that 1 out of 10 subway and regional trains would be running lured many commuters to their Métro stations. Huge crowds gathered at major Métro stations, only to find that the metal entry gates had been locked.

Only one in three buses in Paris was running and taxis were scarce, forcing many commuters who did not stay home to walk. Bicycles that had seen better days were taken out of storage for the day, and bicyclists competed with roller-bladers for street and sidewalk space. Parisians who were obviously not used to walking to work were seen pouring over the classic red pocketbook of Paris-by-neighborhood maps.

Highway travel throughout France, meanwhile, was free, since there were no workers at toll booths to collect the fees.

Parts of Paris seemed shut down. The Tuileries gardens and part of the Luxembourg Gardens were closed to the public.

Most of the shops on the streets near the offices of the prime minister were closed. One of the only shops on the fashionable Rue du Bac that was open was Thierry 21, a shoe store. Marielyn Guedj, the manager, said it took her two hours to walk from her home in the far east side of Paris.

"I thought there would be women walking to work needing to buy more comfortable shoes," she said. "Instead, it's a day of phantoms."

At the Gare St.-Lazare railroad station during morning rush hour, anger was mixed with resignation.

"It's a power struggle," said Emmanuel Hourcade, a 29-year-old social worker who had walked more than an hour to find himself trapped at the station. "I'm all for people wanting to make their demands known. But when they take hostages, that's a different story."

Labor Unions - Page 6