French rail workers begin months of strikes

French SNCF rail strike to defy Macron labour reforms

French rail unions in showdown with Macron in rolling strike

Trains and planes were canceled across France as unions pushed forward with protests against President Emmanuel Macron's plans to strip benefits from some state workers. Some 48 percent of train drivers are taking part in the strike, which has been dubbed "Black Tuesday" by the French press.

Unions plan to strike two days out of every five until the end of June.

Platforms at Gare du Nord, Paris's busiest railway station, were so crowded with commuters that some tumbled onto the tracks and had to be helped back up, television footage showed. The strikes of 1995 paralysed France and forced prime minister Alain Juppe to pull the reforms - a defeat from which he did not recover and that led to then-president Jacques Chirac dissolving the government. Macron has already faced down the unions to ease labour laws, making it simpler to hire and fire.

"We need to rid this country of its strike culture", Gabriel Attal, spokesman for Macron's Republic On The Move (LREM) party, said on April 2.

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". It was, however, "committed to coordination and dialogue with the trade unions", she said.

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Public support for the rail strike stands at just below half, according to an Ifop poll released on Sunday.

Local media reported severe disruption across the country - including to high-speed TGV trains and Paris commuter services.

The walkout - which started on Monday evening and is to last through Wednesday morning - is also reducing train traffic on the Eurostar to Britain and trains to Germany. High-speed Thalys trains towards Belgium and the Netherlands were operating nearly as normal, but there were no services towards Switzerland, Spain or Italy.

A meeting with train union representatives was scheduled for Thursday.

The reforms include opening lines to competition in the public sector and stripping newly recruited rail workers of a special status guaranteeing jobs for life and early retirement, reports Efe news.

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With the four main rail unions observing the strike, services have been severely curtailed.

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

Air France unions have called for a strike over pay on Tuesday, although the company said it expected 75 percent of flights to operate as usual.

The Communist-rooted CGT wants the strike to spread beyond the rail sector.

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