French rail workers begin months of strikes in test for Macron

A view of the office of the French Jewish Students Union at the University of Paris

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.

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.

- One in every three trains to Germany was to operate and three-quarters of Eurostar trains to London and Brussels will run.

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.

Macron says the SNCF, saddled with 46.6 billion euros ($57.5 billion) of debt, needs to drastically improve its efficiency and cut running costs as European Union countries prepare to open passenger rail to competition by 2020. Thalys trains towards Belgium and the Netherlands will operate nearly normally, but there will be none at all to Spain, Italy or Switzerland.

The strike is set to be a major test of President Emmanuel Macron's ability to push through reforms.

A majority of French people view the strikes as unjustified, according to an Ifop poll published on Sunday. Train services have been severely disrupted across the country.

"This reform is necessary for travelers, necessary for the SNCF, necessary for the railway workers", she told CNN's affiliate BFM TV on Tuesday.

A coalition of 12 left-wing parties, ranging from the Greens to the Maoist Communist Party of French Workers (PCOF), has been formed to resist "the breakup of the SNCF", a precursor to the government's goal of breaking up the organized public service sector in France. They are beginning an unlimited strike April 3, but the union has already held job actions in several cities. "Together! Yeah!" This slogan goes back to the victorious struggle of 1995 when the railroad workers beat back the government of Alain Juppé.

"Either the government starts really negotiating or we'll just keep on going", he said.

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.

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

Macron wants to transform SNCF, which adds $3.69 billion (3 billion euros) of debt a year to a pile now running at $57.80 billion (47 billion euros), 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. 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.

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.

Mr Macron's Republic at the Transfer birthday celebration celebration in addition really feels the strike has bigger undertones.



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