Published: Wed, April 04, 2018
Global | By Craig Ferguson

France set for massive railway strike against President Macron's reforms

France set for massive railway strike against President Macron's reforms

Strikes are planned to continue two days a week for three months until June 28 as unions plan to push against Macron's changes to France's vast train system.

More than three-quarters of train drivers joined the first day of the walkout, according to the SNCF, the heavily indebted state rail operator which Mr. Macron wants to overhaul.

Worldwide traffic also will be reduced for a second day from Paris to London and between France and Germany, SNCF predicted.

No trains were set to run between France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

The strike's impact immediately was visible on Tuesday.Passengers hitched rides on traffic-clogged roads and shared travel tips online.

Commuters expressed anger at the overall situation, but were not necessarily taking sides.

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.

I view there could additionally be concerns among train personnel. Some people felt unwell, women were crying.

As the industrial action began, almost one in two SNCF staff stayed off work.

Though Macron is carrying out reforms his predecessors shied away from, he faces a growing challenge from unions in a country where tensions with labour have long kept governments from being bolder in their reforms.

The CGT has called for public and private sector workers nationwide to strike on April 19, but in a sign of union division, private sector unions have so far declined. "I respect the strikers because going on strike is a constitutional right".

A group of about 100 people, majority young, overtook the striking train workers and their supporters at the Paris march, smashing shop and bank windows.

It is expected to be the biggest wave of industrial unrest since Mr Macron's election last May.

The 4 significant rail unions are all getting involved within the strike, with 77 symphonious with cent of SNCF chauffeurs thought to be on strike in France.

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.

Unions accuse Macron, a centrist ex-investment banker, of seeking to "destroy the public railways through pure ideological dogmatism".

Macron says the SNCF, saddled with 46.6 billion euros ($57.5 billion) of debt, needs to make major changes as European Union countries prepare to open passenger rail to competition by 2020.It is 30 percent more expensive to run a train in France than elsewhere in Europe, according to his government, which wants to strip new SNCF hires of special rail workers' status guaranteeing jobs for life and early retirement.

The government wants to maintain the status for existing workers, but abolish it for new workers. "That depends on the government - we are ready to discuss it", he said.

"We're striking for several reasons, but at the top of the list is the government wanting to open up the service to competition", the spokesman for rail union Sud Rail, Eric Santinelli, told CNN.

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