Will Gauls stall Cannes?

French unions may fry summer fests

PARIS — Here we go again.

Less than a month from the start of the Cannes Film Festival, angry showbiz workers have renewed threats to disrupt France’s upcoming summer festival season.

Efforts to end a three-year wrangle over reforms to unemployment benefits hit a brick wall again last week, when unions rejected a set of modified proposals from the employers org Medef.

Officially, the unions have until May 18 — day two of the Cannes fest, which runs May 17-28 — to make up their minds.

The original set of proposals, which increased the number of hours a person had to work before he’s entitled to unemployment benefits, sparked mass protests in 2003 that derailed arts events including the Avignon Theater Festival.

Around 100,000 French workers depend on the system.

The communist-leaning CGT union urged its members to picket tonight’s Moliere theater awards in Paris and the Printemps de Bourges music festival, which gets under way Wednesday.

“There won’t automatically be a full-blown strike,” Jean Voirin, general secretary for the CGT’s showbiz branch, said Friday, “but it goes without saying that if the government approves (Medef’s proposals), it will be taking a great responsibility for the way things go this summer.”

Even if Cannes did see some strike action, it could avoid the worst of the protests, as it has in previous years. First, the organization doesn’t employ temporary showbiz workers, even during the actual festival. Second, Voirin is a longstanding member of the fest’s board.

However, the strikers have a lot of support among French talent in Cannes — thesps, directors and writers — who are covered by the same social security system.

The Medef wants showbiz workers to put in 507 hours over 10 months in order to be eligible for benefits. Modified plans, designed to give more flexibility, allow those who haven’t achieved the requisite number of hours another two months to acquire a total of 607 hours. Org said changes will save the French state some E60 million ($74 million).

But the CGT said the proposals would exclude 45% of those currently working in the showbiz sector from unemployment benefits.