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Air France pilots join French labor strikes

A quarter of all Air France pilots went on strike on Saturday, joining a wave of workers protesting a proposed labor law that would ease worker protections in France.

The four-day strike is the latest event to destabilize the French economy, which is still reeling from the November terrorist attacks in Paris. Up to 30 percent of Air France’s flights may be canceled, officials said.

The pilots, who are challenging Air France’s mandate of more hours without additional pay, come a day after the start of the Euro 2016 soccer championship, the world’s third-biggest sporting event. The country is expected to receive over two million visitors for the event.

Last month, President Francois Hollande pushed a labor law to the parliament floor that led rail workers and employees at oil refineries to hit the streets in protest. Their efforts have disrupted public transportation and led to temporary gas shortages.

Garbage collectors joined the strike this month and are refusing to collect trash in certain cities in France, including Paris, until Tuesday.

On Friday, the eve of the start of the soccer tournament, protesters showed no signs of backing down. They blocked the entrance to Rungis, Europe’s largest food market, while major labor unions also have planned a nationwide day of protest on Tuesday. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls this week urged an end to the strikes.

“I would like the Euro to be a beautiful showcase for France,” he said. “France is ready to host the Euro, and everyone must show responsibility and patriotism at this time.”

The initial protests, led by France’s largest labor unions, have been in response to a bill still in the National Assembly that would make it easier for companies to fire employees. Opponents of the bill fear it would further threaten job security. AirFrance pilots joined the protesters, but in regard to changes to their contracts.

National unemployment hovers above 10 percent. Among people under 25, it’s 24 percent.

Government officials said the law would not change, in spite of the strikes — though union leaders are hoping otherwise.

“The government understands nothing but force, and the balance of power is in our favor,” said Eric Santinelli, leader of a prominent union. “We will hold on until they back down.”

French President Francois Hollande is similarly committed. On Thursday he threatened to “take all the measures that are necessary” to counter the strikes.

Valls, a member of Hollande’s socialist administration, said he wants to dispel the notion that the country is stagnant on change.

“We’ve got the French people too used to the feeling that reform is impossible and that it’s enough to contest it in the street for reform not to happen,” he said. “But reform is possible. It’s a question of political will and a state of mind.”

National attention in France has shifted to the European soccer championship, which Hollande has called a showcase for the country’s bid for the 2024 Olympics. To keep up with the security challenge posed by the influx of tourists — and complicated by protesters — France has deployed 90,000 police officers and security personnel for the month. The tournament continues through July 10.

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