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French strikes over Macron reforms turn ugly

26 March, 2018, 01:06 | Author: Priscilla Morrison
  • Rail workers are gearing up to fight for their rights

Workers across France took to the streets on Thursday to protest President Emmanuel Macron's public sector reform plans.

Public opinion is largely behind his bid to remove some job privileges for new hires at debt-laden state railway operator SNCF and many analysts believe the reform effort is a crucial test of strength. They held banners and placards criticizing Macron's policies and expressing opposition to privatization.

"There will be a lot of people taking part", the leader of the hard-left CGT union, Philippe Martinez, promised on Wednesday.

"What we need to avoid is that all the grievances fuse together, as was the case in 1995", Reuters quoted a government official as saying.

Teachers, train conductors, and airline controllers marched all over France on Thursday, March 22.

While Thursday's strikes are likely to inconvenience many travelers, Macron was elected on a mandate of reforming the country's famously rigid labor laws.

FSU union official Bernadette Groison said the reforms would herald "the end of the social model we know today, with public services that have been broken apart".

But the first round of their battle against Macron in September and October a year ago - over changes to labour law - ended in disappointment and saw the ex-investment banker prevail.

"We're never happy when things change, yet we want things to change - that's the paradox of France", he tweeted last week.

Railway workers are anxious by government plans to scrap job-for-life guarantees, automatic annual pay rises and generous early retirement packages.

Only 40 percent of high-speed TGV trains and around a third of commuter trains were operating, CNN's Jim Bitterman reported from Paris' Gare Saint-Lazare railway station.

SNCF unions have already scheduled a series of strikes for next month, May and June.

The disruption is expected to cause a major headache for management even on non-strike days because trains and staff will not be where they are supposed to be.

Airport authorities said 30% of flights to and from Paris were cancelled.

They are being organised to dovetail with a day of demonstrations by civil servants and public service employees opposed to plans to change the retirement system.

He was also suspected, without any certainty, of having travelled to Syria, Le Parisien said, adding that the family flat, where he would have been living with his parents and three or four sisters, was raided by police on Friday afternoon.

This is not the first time workers have taken to the streets to demonstrate against Macron's labour plans.

Macron's approval rating is at 37%, according to a survey by the Ipsos polling group published on Wednesday, with 55% holding a negative view of his presidency, the highest level since the start of his term past year.

Macron also said there should be a target for European Union budget spending to help a transition to a green economy and no European Union spending should be "hostile" to the environment.


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