From Reuters, via The Guardian:
French unions and employers signed an agreement on Thursday opening the way for privatisation of seven ports, including the key oil hub of Fos Lavera, as part of a reform of French docksides.
The agreement, required in a law on port reform passed by parliament in July, follows negotiations launched after the plans provoked weeks of protests and stoppages by port workers earlier this year.
The CGT union, representing port workers, said that as part of the agreement members had agreed to stop protest actions begun on July 15.
The deal will see private companies take over dockside unloading operations previously run by the state at the ports, which as well as the Fos-Lavera hub in Marseille include Dunkirk, Le Havre, Rouen, La Rochelle, Nantes-Saint-Nazaire and Bordeaux.
Workers at the seven so-called autonomous ports strongly opposed the plans to shake up the operation of the state-run harbours, which have been losing market share steadily.
Port employers have long complained that inflexible labour practices have hampered competitiveness at French docks, while labour groups feared privatisations could lead to job losses.
Work at the seven ports has been traditionally strictly divided between private sector cargo handlers and public sector authorities who manage harbour infrastructure, including the cranes used to load and unload ships.
The new agreement would end the state monopoly on infrastructure operation within two years, while providing guarantees for workers transferred to private sector operators as a result, the Environment Ministry said in a statement.
Here's the real nugget:
The CGT said in a statement workers were "fiercely opposed" to deregulating work at the ports. But they said they recognised that a deal was essential for the ports' strategic future.
So labor realized that thwarting privatization would be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face: a short-term "lifeline" masking an ultimately self-destructive act.
On the larger front, I'm sure that American ports are taking notice. Their interest in privatization and private financing of port infrastructure is certainly on the rise, as Ken Orski described in Reason's Annual Privatization Report 2008. More on the emerging arena in port privatization here.