French strikes to test Macron's resolve

25 March, 2018, 01:51 | Author: Clarence Schmidt
  • Rail workers are gearing up to fight for their rights

Students and workers have poured into the streets of France to protest proposals to reform public sector jobs.

Thursday's stoppages alone will halve regional rail services and standard inter-city links, and knock 60 percent of high-speed TGV trains out of action, the company said.

Airport authorities say 30% of flights to and from Paris are canceled.

French President Emmanuel Macron faces his first day of major protest as rail workers, teachers and air-traffic controllers will walk out to oppose his plans to overhaul their status as civil-service workers and expand competition.

That has led the government, which overhauled labour laws a year ago and is crafting other reforms, to say it will stand by its plans while keeping a close eye on protests.

Civil servants and public services workers, including teachers and health staff, chose to walk out in French cities on March 22 to express their anger over the government's plan to reduce their number by 120,000 within five years and expand the use of short-term contracts.

People protest French government reforms in Paris on March 22, 2018, in Paris.

For France's trade unions, it is a moment for them to show that they still wield power despite decades of declining membership numbers and new laws that have clipped their ability to shut down public services.

Rail workers have announced a three-month wave of intermittent strikes to try to force the government to back down, vowing two days of strikes every five days.


Services ground to a halt across the country yesterday.

Laurent Berger, head of France's largest union, CFDT, said workers are not in accord with the plans and are up for the challenge.

The official said: "The situation is very different from 1995".

The CGT, the biggest union among the roughly 150,000 SNCF rail staff, spearheaded strikes in 1995 that forced the government of the time to withdraw reform, after which the then-prime minister, Alain Juppe, quit.

On the railways, plans to drop guaranteed job security and other benefits for new recruits have riled unionists who also fear that a restructuring of the SNCF could eventually see it privatised. Railway workers are planning on striking for 2 days out of 5 between April and June, which they think will prove to Macron that they mean business, but he hopes it'll just turn the public against them.

Although a majority of voters back the strike, an even bigger majority back the reforms, including cuts to the number of public sector workers and the introduction of merit-based pay, according to opinion polls.

He said he was also protesting against tax hikes on pensions.

Riot police clashed with hooded youths believed to be far left anarchists who had infiltrated the march through Paris on Thursday afternoon.

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