French prison guards have launched a nationwide strike against the government over staff levels and violence in the country's overcrowded jails.
The strike, starting with pre-dawn pickets on Monday, marked an escalation in protests after unions this weekend rejected a proposal from Emmanuel Macron's government to employ 100 extra guards this year and a further 1000 before 2022, the end of Macron's mandate.
Guards burned tyres and wooden pallets outside the gates to several jails ahead of talks hastily convened by Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet.
"We will not be used as cannon fodder. We won't give an inch," Yoan Karar, a senior Force Ouvriere (FO) union official, told CNews.
His union demanded higher wages and rapid hiring of 2400 staff.
Union representative Karar, a guard for 13 years at Fresnes prison on the edge of Paris, said records put the number of attacks on security staff at 4000 a year.
"You cannot put a guard in charge of 100 or 150 prisoners and just give him a whistle," said Karar, calling for guards to be armed with taser guns.
France's prison population has more than doubled since the 1970s, and prison guards complain increasingly that they have neither the staff nor the equipment and support to deal with violent inmates, notably convicted Islamists and petty criminals who become radicalised while in prison.
Macron's government is under mounting pressure to resolve the unrest after several attacks on guards by inmates in different jails in the past week.
Riot police clashed with guards manning a picket outside the Fleury Merogis prison on Friday, where protests first erupted after an Islamist militant jailed over the killing of 21 people in Tunisia in 2000 slashed guards on the head and torso with a pair of scissors.
The government also proposed over the weekend the separation of France's most violent inmates from the rest of its 70,000 prisoners, one of Europe's largest prison populations.
Mr Macron said this month that a plan would be presented in February that would go beyond an existing pledge to build thousands of new prison cells.