- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 29, 2001

PARIS (Agence France-Presse) The specter of chaos loomed yesterday over the introduction next year of the European single currency here after unions representing bank workers called for a strike to take place a day after the euro enters general circulation.
Five of France's leading unions called for a stoppage among employees across the entire banking sector on Jan. 2, a step that would greatly disrupt the Jan. 1 changeover from the franc to euro coins and notes.
France, on that day, is to join 11 other European nations in the world's largest-ever currency transition, a move that has been 30 years in the planning.
"We are forced to announce a strike for January 2, 2002, as a means of finding the best way to pressure the employers to negotiate," said Pierre Gendre of the union Force Ouvriere (Worker Force).
Another union official said the action to shut down the banks could extend beyond Jan. 2 "depending on the reaction of management in the sector and the mobilization on the ground."
For several weeks, unions have been demanding negotiations with management on salaries, staffing levels and security in connection with the changeover from the franc to the euro.
Earlier yesterday, French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius said he hoped "reason would prevail" in the dispute and that banks would operate normally on Jan. 2 after the New Year's holiday.
"The transition to the euro is an historic act propelling France and all of Europe into the future," Mr. Fabius added. "It would be paradoxical to begin this period" with the banks closed.
Jacques Perilliat, head of an association of central Parisian department stores, warned that a strike would prevent big stores from following government recommendations to give change exclusively in euros after Jan. 1 and to transfer their French francs to the banks.
The government hope is that under such arrangement the franc will be withdrawn rapidly from circulation in the first two weeks of the year.
But giving change in euros requires that stores have a sufficient supply of the currency and be able to transfer their francs to the safety of the banks.


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