In Challenge to Macron, French Strikes Snarl Transport

04 April, 2018, 01:15 | Author: Roderick Gutierrez
  • Above French President Emmanuel Macron Image Credit Reuters

With their strike, railway workers are protesting Macron's plan to modernize and liberalize state-owned railway company SNCF.

The French people as well tourists visiting the country were set to face inconvenience as the rolling railway strikes were set to start on Tuesday, April 3, to protest against President Emmanuel Macron's reforms.

French transport systems were paralysed on Tuesday. Only one in eight long-distance trains ran on Tuesday, and train connections to Switzerland, Spain and Italy were completely cancelled. At the capital's Gare De Lyon, a woman had to be helped off the tracks after falling due to overcrowding. "These fears are not justified and they are being fueled", said Borne. Many students joined the protest.

And with stoppages planned two days out of five until June 28, weeks of disruption lie ahead for France's 4.5 million daily train passengers.

The last French president to square off against rail unions over workers' benefits came off worst. The calendar of railway strikes is coordinated to align with negotiations and parliamentary debate about the reforms.

The unions are somewhat weaker than in 1995 and divided in their response to Macron's social and economic reforms. "We are halfway through our discussions, why block the country?"

However, labour unions hit back at the government's portrayal of railway workers.

Union chief Emmanuel Grondein said the strike was necessary and had a wider objective.

After an Easter holiday weekend, the SNCF was faced with one of the biggest strikes in years, with almost one in two staff off work.

His government is planning to stop granting the rail workers' special status - which guarantees jobs for life and early retirement - to new SNCF hires entering the company.

The government has painted the rail workers as enjoying outdated privileges, a notion the unions strongly reject.

"I want to be very clear ... the strike action will no doubt be widely adhered to and his going to make the lives of a lot of people very hard", he said in a radio interview.

Worldwide 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.

Macron wants to transform heavily indebted SNCF into a profit-maker. The unions say the debt was caused by excessive investment in France's high-speed network and accuse Macron of paving the way for privatisation, which French officials deny.

Borne has sought to ease tensions with assurances that current SNCF employees that have to move to a competitor in the future would keep most of their advantages.

Air traffic was also disrupted on Tuesday. The Communist-rooted CGT wants the industrial action to spread to other sectors but has so far seen little support. However little impact was felt in the power sector and on nuclear-reliant France's 58 nuclear reactors operated by state-controlled utility EDF.

Global train services also face disruption: no trains were set to run between France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.



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