France: Prison Blockades End, But Tensions Remain

On Monday, 4 May 2009, 4,000 prison guards went on strike in France, protesting prison overcrowding (63,351 prisoners held in facilities designed for only 52,000), which has led to rising suicides of prisoners (96 in 2007, 115 in 2008, and 42 so far this year), inadequate budgets (resulting in the low starting salary of 1,200 euros per month), and poor working conditions.  The guards at 120 out of 194 prisons in the country participated in the strike jointly organized by the CGT, the FO, and the UFAP, blockading the prisons. 

The FO (68%) and the UFAP (60%) voted on Thursday to sign an agreement with the Minister of Justice, ending the blockade.   The agreement “provides for the creation of 174 jobs, in addition to 177 promised in February.  The new jobs — from 60 in October to 114 by the end of 2010 — will mainly benefit the ‘smallest’ of the 194 prisons,” according to Le Parisien.  The newspaper also reports that the reception of the agreement has been “mixed” among the rank and file.  It quotes UFAP leader Jean-François Forget as admitting that “it’s a yes, but it’s not massive.”  

The CGT is angry at the FO and UFAP’s “capitulations and treasons.”  CGT-Pénitentiaire Secretary General Celine Verzeletti says: “We had the opportunity to be much more demanding.”  The accord has been rejected by the guards of the La Santé and Fresnes prisons, however, and the unions may take new actions.