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Railway Strikes Aim to Bring Macron's Reforms to a Halt

04 April 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.

Only one in eight high-speed trains were running on what the French media dubbed "black Tuesday", with more than three quarters of train drivers on strike, according to SNCF management.

The four main rail unions plan to strike for two days out of every five for the next three months - a total of 36 days of disruption - to fight a shake-up of monopoly SNCF before it is opened to competition in line with European Union rules. At Gare du Nord, Paris's busiest station, platforms were so crowded that some commuters tumbled onto tracks; other stations were plunged into darkness, the lights and ticket machines switched off. An Ifop poll released over the weekend said 46 percent think the SNCF strike is justified, while 53 percent say it isn't.

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". She accused some unions of seeking to "politicise" the strike action. Demonstrations across the country have already caused severe disruption in commuter trains and school shutdowns. High-speed Thalys trains towards Belgium and the Netherlands were operating nearly as normal, but there were no services towards Switzerland, Spain or Italy.

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Macron wants to transform SNCF, which adds €3 billion to its 47 billion euro debt pile each year, into a profit-maker.

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.

A meeting with train union representatives was scheduled for Thursday.

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.

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Staff at Air France, garbage collectors and some energy workers were also staging separate walkouts on Tuesday.

What remains unclear is whether Macron might offer further concessions to get the unions to back down before the strikes bite.

Air traffic was also disrupted on Tuesday.

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Railway Strikes Aim to Bring Macron's Reforms to a Halt