Saturday, 26 May, 2018

French rail workers begin major strike action over Macron's reform efforts

French strike affects Swiss rail connections France: Railway Strikes Aim to Bring Macron's Reforms to a Halt
Gerardo Duncan | 04 April, 2018, 02:08

French rail workers on Tuesday launched the first full day of three months of rolling strikes, as a wave of industrial action hits France over President Emmanuel Macron's planned reforms.

The employees at France's state rail operator SNCF started walking out from 7 pm on Monday, April 2, beginning a series of disruptions on two out of every five days.

In a bid to boost efficiency, the government wants to end rail workers' jobs-for-life, automatic annual pay rises and early retirement rights - benefits that date back to the nationalisation of the SNCF in the 1930s. The strikes of 1995 paralysed France and forced prime minister Alain Juppé to pull the measures - a defeat from which he did not recover.

The rail strikes are being seen as the biggest challenge yet to Macron's sweeping plans to liberalize the French economy and make it more competitive.

"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", Pepy said in a radio interview.

Travelers are livid as simply one in 8 high-speed TGVs are arranged as well as simply one in 5 local trains, leaving travelers on jampacked trains. Bus services into the capital were overwhelmed, with BFM TV reporting that police were called to remove people who overcrowded one bus.

France's national train company is warning that a workers' strike will disrupt train service within France and elsewhere in Europe today and tomorrow.

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. "Some people very clearly want to politicize the debate".

Macron wants to transform SNCF, which adds €3 billion to its 47 billion euro debt pile each year, into a profit-maker. Unions say he is paving the way for privatization.

If Macron triumphs - and this is by far the biggest test the 40-year-old former investment banker has faced so far - it will set the tone for other proposed changes, including revamping the education system and overhauling pensions. He has already stared them down over easing labor laws.

"I hear that there may be fears on the part of the railway workers".

The government has sought to ease tensions with assurances that the arrival of foreign competition on French rail tracks, pencilled in for gradual rollout from 2020 onwards, could be delayed until as late as 2033 in some cases. Rail employees have been called upon to stop work on two out of five days every week until June 30.

"We are very satisfied with the number of strikers because due to the strike practically the entire railway network was paralyzed", Francois Grasa, leader of the FO Cheminots (Railway Workers) Union, said.

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