The conflict has strong political overtones. Only a few days ago, the [Jacques Chirac] Cabinet forced the resignation of Claude Quinn, a Communist, as director general of the Paris transportation system after he objected to the budget cuts. The Communist-dominated General Confederation of Workers is the largest union in the Paris system, representing 41% of the subway and bus workers.
Paris uses public transport extensively-an average of almost one ride per person a day in the metropolitan area. With a population of 2.5 million within the city of Paris and 8.5 million in the entire metropolitan area, Parisians take 5 million Metro trips a day, 3 million bus trips a day and 1 million suburban train trips a day. The transport system has 4,000 buses, 3,005 subway cars and 880 suburban train cars.
Extensive public transport strikes have been relatively rare in Paris. But the city was paralyzed last Dec. 20, when workers staged a wildcat strike to protest the conviction of a train conductor for causing an accident. Since the strike was not expected, Parisians were caught unprepared. The last extensive one-day strike called by the unions for higher wages came in 1977. The conservatives ran the government then, as well.