French unions kick off huge rail strike in test for Macron

Hannah Rogers
April 4, 2018

French rail workers kicked off three months of rolling strikes on April 3, part of a wave of industrial action that will test President Emmanuel Macron's resolve to reshape France with sweeping reforms.rench rail workers kicked off three months of rolling strikes on April 3, part of a wave of industrial action that will test President Emmanuel Macron's resolve to reshape France with sweeping reforms.

To show their rejection to the railway reform of the government, workers of the SNCF have agreed to stop for two days out of every five, from April 3 to the end of June, meaning 36 days of distress in train traffic.

Workers now enjoy generous contract and benefits, but the French government is looking to reform contracts for new workers. The strikes of 1995 paralysed France and forced prime minister Alain Juppé to pull the measures - a defeat from which he did not recover. French media reports that the majority of regional trains would be out of service.

The unions are broadly weaker now and divided over how best to handle Mr Macron's many social and economic reforms - a division Macron hopes to be able to exploit to his advantage.

Public support for the rail strike stands at just below half, according to an Ifop poll released on Sunday.

France's transport minister Elisabeth Borne said there were no plans to privatize SNCF and suggested that opening up the country's high-speed trains to competition would mean "more trains, new services, cheaper tickets". Bus services into the capital were overwhelmed, with BFM TV reporting that police were called to remove people who overcrowded one bus.

Meanwhile, SNCF is warning passengers that services could be severely disrupted during strike action and advises travellers to seek other modes of transportation where possible.

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Earlier in the day he had celebrated Mass in the flower-bedecked square. The Eastern Orthodox church celebrates Easter next Sunday, April 8.

Global services were also disrupted, with no trains running between France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain and the Eurostar connecting London, Paris and Brussels operating a reduced service.

SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy warned entire lines could be closed as a result. "Some people very clearly want to politicize the debate".

Macron wants to transform heavily indebted SNCF into a profit-maker. Unions say Macron is paving the way for privatization.

Though the aviation strike is not linked to Macron's reforms directly, it certainly made the impact of the unions' strike bigger. Macron has already faced down the unions to ease labour laws, making it simpler to hire and fire.

Farid Hachelef, a 32-year-old who works in construction, said he had spent the night in Paris with a friend rather than trying to travel in from the northern suburb of Argenteuil, "otherwise, I would never make it".

"This little melody being sung of "privileged railway workers" is intolerable", said Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union.

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