/ 14 April 2008

France’s Le Monde newspaper on strike

Staff at Le Monde, France’s newspaper of record, went on strike on Monday to protest plans to axe a quarter of its journalists and sell off several magazines.

It is only the second time that journalists at the loss-making newspaper, founded in 1944, have walked off the job. They took part in a first strike in 1976 as part of a national newspaper industry protest.

The daily newspaper was absent from newsstands on Monday while staff at the website edition said they would support their striking colleagues.

At a meeting, Le Monde staff called on management to allow the 130 job cuts to be made on a voluntary basis and opposed outright the plan to sell the magazines.

Le Monde obviously has problems but we don’t think that the situation will improve if you get rid of the grey matter,” said CGT journalists’ union leader Dominique Candille.

Management plans to cut 130 jobs at Le Monde, including 85 to 90 journalists, a quarter of the editorial staff. It has said that it will resort to forced departures for the first time in the newspaper’s history.

Another 170 jobs would be affected by the sale of two publishing houses, a cultural weekly and the La Procure religious publications.

Chief editor Eric Fottorino said that the strike came during ”serious and exceptional” times at the newspaper but vowed to press on with the proposed cuts to save the publication.

”I understand and share the employees’ concern. But at the same time, I am very determined to carry out this plan, because its success will ensure Le Monde‘s independence,” Fottorino said.

Le Monde and its affiliated publications have about 1 600 employees and the group has been struggling for years with heavy financial losses and mounting debt. It ran up losses of €20-million in 2007.

The flagship paper has a circulation of about 320 000.

”This plan is worse than what we had imagined,” said Michel Delberghe, from the CFDT union.

”It provides for cuts in all areas. Many editorial departments will be affected but their heads of services have yet to be consulted,” he said.

Le Monde was thrown into further turmoil last December when its executive board resigned just six months after its election. Its members cited differences with a body controlling the newspaper’s finances.

Le Monde was founded in 1944 by campaigning journalist Hubert Beuve-Mery, who edited the newspaper for its first 25 years. — AFP