- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2006

STRASBOURG, France (AP) — Dock workers fought with police and smashed windows at the European Parliament building yesterday during a protest over a proposal to liberalize port services across the European Union.

Strikes and work slowdowns also disrupted cargo handling at several ports as trade unions showed their opposition to the plan even as EU legislators predicted it would be rejected.

Police used water cannons and tear gas to try to keep thousands of protesting dock workers away from the EU legislature. But the mob surged forward, hurling rocks, logs and metal fences to shatter large sections of glass in the glass-and-steel building, located on the outskirts of this eastern French city. The damage was estimated at several hundred thousand dollars, the parliament said.

Earlier, police fired pepper gas at demonstrators after port workers hurled flares, canisters, glasses and stones at the security services during a march through the city center. One policeman was hospitalized with a head wound, and 11 officers suffered light injuries, according to the parliament’s press service.

Workers in yellow vests accompanied by marching bands set off smoke bombs and waved banners saying, “Victory to the dockers.” Some cars were set on fire, and smoke mingled with the smell of pepper spray hung heavy in some parts of the town.

At least 6,000 workers from all major European ports, including Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Antwerp in Belgium, Hamburg in Germany and Marseille in France, and from as far away as Australia and the United States, participated in the demonstration organized by several trade unions.

At the same time, workers closed down cargo handling in Antwerp — Europe’s second-biggest port — and strikes affected harbor work in Portugal, Germany and Denmark. Dock workers in Sweden and in Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, held short work stoppages.

The European Parliament appeared set yesterday to reject plans to liberalize cargo handling at EU seaports, two years after voting down the draft legislation on port services.

“This law is not good for any European port,” said Eduardo Chagas, secretary-general of the European Transport Workers’ Federation. “We believe it is not supported by anybody, not even the ship owners.”

The bill, tabled by the European Union’s executive commission, proposes opening cargo handling to competition, putting an end to loading and unloading by monopoly handlers at many European ports. The vote is scheduled for tomorrow.

Tens of thousands of dock workers in several EU nations went on strike last week against the plans. Similar strikes and rallies were held across Europe in March 2003, with dock workers hurling metal barricades at riot police in Strasbourg the day before the parliament vote on the previous version of the bill.

The draft legislation was rejected by the assembly in November 2003, but was revived by the commission, which argued that the legislation was needed to cut costs and create a more transparent and competitive environment in European ports, many of which receive state aid.

Unions fear it would lead to job losses among dock workers, and lower wages and safety standards. They are concerned about proposals in the bill allowing ship crews to handle cargo themselves, and want qualified stevedores to continue doing dock work, arguing that the job is too specialized to leave to personnel on board the docking ships.

Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have spoken out against port liberalization.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide