French rail workers begin months of rolling strikes

French rail workers begin months of rolling strikes

French rail workers begin months of rolling strikes

SNCF said in a statement on Sunday that only 15 per cent of high-speed trains and 25 per cent of regional trains would be running tomorrow and April 4 due to the strike.

At the Gare de Lyon station in eastern Paris, platforms were so packed that commuters spilled over onto the tracks as they waited for infrequent trains. An Ifop poll released over the weekend said 46 percent think the SNCF strike is justified, while 53 percent say it isn't.

"I respect the strikers because the right to strike is guaranteed by the constitution".

He was forced to concede after the country's unions sent thousands to the streets in demonstrations and, in the minds of many, turned the protest movement into a battle for the soul of the country, winning widespread public support.

The four main rail unions have called for workers to take two days of strikes every five days until June 28, unless Macron ditches plans for an overhaul on debt-riddled state rail operator SNCF before it is opened up to competition as required by European Union law.

The unions appear weaker now, however, and are divided over their responses to Macron's many social and economic reforms.

He managed to pass controversial labor reforms in October, but the length and severity of the rail strikes are already earning comparisons with late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's showdown with coal miners in 1984. On Tuesday, the French Minister of Transport once again assured that the privatization of the company will not be conducted, and stressed that a number of organizers of the strike disseminate incorrect information and are trying to translate the debate into a political plane. "That depends on the government - we are ready to discuss it", he said. "Together! Yeah!" This slogan goes back to the victorious struggle of 1995 when the railroad workers beat back the government of Alain Juppé.

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

The government has painted the rail workers as enjoying outdated privileges, a notion the unions strongly reject.

Taking on the railway company's 74,000 workers will be tough for Macron, after he pushed through a liberalization of France's labour code and cut taxes on capital in his first year in office. Garbage collectors are protesting against hard working conditions and demanding early retirement.

Macron will need to keep the public on his side if he is to defy the unions and push the reforms through.

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.

SNCF manager Guillaume Pepy, mentioned: "I have to be really clear ... the strike activity will definitely be thoroughly complied with as well as his mosting likely to make the lives of many various other individuals really challenging". It is also uncertain how long their members' resolve will last and whether the strikes will spread beyond the rail sector as the Communist-rooted CGT wants.

Some energy sector workers walked out today in protest against the planned liberalisation of the power sector, but there was little impact on power output.

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