Louvre, Versailles closed by French museum strike

AP News
Posted: Dec 03, 2009 3:29 PM

The Louvre Museum and the royal palace at Versailles were closed Thursday because of a French museum workers' strike that appears to be gathering steam.

Frustrated tourists gathered outside the landmark pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre, blocked off by workers. They are protesting government plans not to replace half of retiring public servants, which will affect the country's national museums.

The strike began at the Pompidou Center for modern art last month and workers at other national museums joined in Wednesday.

Union leaders met with Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand on Wednesday afternoon but won no concessions, and unions said the strike gained momentum Thursday. Kamal Hesni of the CFDT-Culture union said labor leaders voted to continue the strike Friday.

Versailles remained partially open Wednesday but closed to the public Thursday for lack of enough staff, a French national museum authority official said. The Pompidou Center and the Musee d'Orsay, with its renowned collection of Impressionist paintings, were also closed. The official was not authorized to be named according to the agency's policy.

The vast collection at the Louvre, a major attraction in Paris, was last shuttered by a strike in 2001 that lasted eight days.

The sumptuous Versailles chateau, which normally gets thousands of visitors daily, didn't have enough staff to open its doors. The extensive gardens beneath the chateau west of Paris remained open.

Workers at France's premier library, Francois Mitterrand National Library in southeast Paris, voted to join the strike Friday.

It was unclear how many workers were on strike across France. Paris tourism offices were alerting visitors to the museum closures.

The culture minister said France could not make an exception for museum workers in a government-wide cost-cutting measure affecting all public servants, and that museums had many ways to reorganize to deal with shrinking staff numbers.

"The reform must be applied," he said on France-2 television Thursday. "If we start to make exceptions, we will never get out of this," he said, referring to the budget constraints that prompted the reform.

Frederic Sorbier of the CGT union, standing in front of the Louvre, said, "We are pressing on with the strike because we did not obtain what we wanted. Because when our managers and the ministers have to face demands, they deny responsibility saying 'I can't do anything, I have no leeway for maneuver, I must defer to the president, the president must defer to Europe, and Europe to globalization.' So there's no solution."


Associated Press writer Julien Proult contributed to this report.