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France set for massive railway strike against President Macron's reforms

France set for massive railway strike against President Macron's reforms”

"But today is my first day in a new job so I have to admit I could have done without the strike".

Experts anticipate that the strikes, which are slated to continue for two out of every five days for the next three months, will affect close to 85 percent of France's high-speed trains and 75 percent of its regional trains.

The last time a French president squared off against rail unions over workers' benefits it ended badly.

The unions are somewhat weaker than in 1995 and divided in their response to Macron's social and economic reforms.

Unions fear that if Macron triumphs in the rail dispute, he could soon push through controversial reforms in areas such as education and pensions.

French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said that despite the protests, the government did not want to give in to the workers' demands. "That depends on the government - we are ready to discuss it", he said.

In a battle for public support, union leaders hit back.

"The railway workers are not doing this for the fun of it", said Philippe Martinez, head of the hard line CGT union, the biggest among railway workers.

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On 22 March, tens of thousands of teachers, nurses and other workers joined rail staff on strike - a sign of widespread opposition to Mr Macron's plans for state sector liberalisation.

French President Emmanuel Macron is facing his largest domestic challenge yet to the raft of reforms he's been working to implement since he took office in 2017.

The government has painted the rail workers as enjoying outdated privileges, a notion the unions strongly reject.

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". One in every three trains to Germany was to operate, while the Eurostar service connecting London, Paris and Brussels was down to three out of every four trains, the SNCF said.

Macron wants to transform heavily indebted SNCF into a profit-maker.

The protesting unions in France believe Macron's ideas would neither resolve SNCF's debt issue nor cure the railway's problems but would hurt the railways. 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.

Air France, where there's an unrelated strike over pay, said it expects to operate three-quarters of its flights Tuesday. However little impact was felt in the power sector and on nuclear-reliant France's 58 nuclear reactors operated by state-controlled utility EDF.



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