French rail workers begin months of strikes

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CGT labour union employees of French state-owned railway company SNCF gather on a platform at the Gare Lille Flandres railway station as part of a nationwide strike by French SNCF railway workers, France, on April 3, 2018.

A senior SNCF manager, Alain Krakovitch, told Le Parisien that only 12% of high-speed TGV trains would operate on Tuesday, and the low-priced Ouigo service would be at a standstill. Eurostar, which runs service between London and Paris, canceled five trains today in each direction, or about one-third of the trains it would run on a normal Tuesday.

The move is aimed at protesting against Macron's plan to transform the national SNCF - which is in massive debt - into a profit-maker ahead of the European Union opening up state railways to competition from 2023. High-speed Thalys trains towards Belgium and the Netherlands were operating nearly as normal, but there were no services towards Switzerland, Spain or Italy.

If the 40-year-old president triumphs it will set the tone for other reform plans, including revamping the education system and overhauling pensions.

A few thousand demonstrators marched through the French capital at the call of rail workers union. French media reports that the majority of regional trains would be out of service.

Despite the planned rolling strikes by rail workers, Macron plans to push through the SNCF overhaul by executive order, which will allow him to avoid parliamentary debate.

Minister of Transport, Elisabeth Borne, asserted the government does not plan to backup from its reform project, and once more criticized the railroad workers for going on strike.

The unions appear weaker now, however, and are divided over their responses to Macron's many social and economic reforms.

"The railway workers are not doing this for the fun of it", he insisted. "That depends on the government - we are ready to discuss it", he said.

Though the aviation strike is not linked to Macron's reforms directly, it certainly made the impact of the unions' strike bigger.

She accused some unions of seeking to "politicise" the strike action.

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.

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.

In Ile-de-France region, half of scheduled inter-city links would be affected by the unions' action, triggering problems for millions of train passengers. The government has already given some ground, suggesting that the advent of foreign competition on French rail tracks can be delayed until as late as 2033 in some cases. It is also uncertain how long their members' resolve will last and whether the strikes will spread beyond the rail sector as the Communist-rooted CGT wants. If it is not possible to reach an agreement with the government, railway workers intend to strike every week on a two-day schedule, a total of 36 days.

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

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