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French transport strike enters fourth week with unions pledging to press on

Saturday, December 28th 2019 - 09:22 UTC
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The strike against pension reforms championed by President Emmanuel Macron began on Dec 5 and has seen most of the Paris metro shut down ever since The strike against pension reforms championed by President Emmanuel Macron began on Dec 5 and has seen most of the Paris metro shut down ever since
The longest transport strike in France lasted for 28 days, also over Christmas, in 1986 and 1987. Calls by Macron for a holiday truce have gone unheeded. The longest transport strike in France lasted for 28 days, also over Christmas, in 1986 and 1987. Calls by Macron for a holiday truce have gone unheeded.

The head of a hard-line French trade union on Friday vowed to press on with a crippling strike that has cast a shadow over Christmas celebrations, with the stoppages entering a fourth week and becoming the longest-lasting such action since the 1980s.

The strike against pension reforms championed by President Emmanuel Macron began on Dec 5 and has seen most of the Paris metro shut down ever since and only a fraction of inter-city trains running.

Now on day 23, the union stoppage is longer than the notorious 22-day strike of the winter of 1995 under late president Jacques Chirac against welfare cutbacks which forced the then government into a U-turn.

The longest transport strike in France lasted for 28 days, also over Christmas, in 1986 and early 1987. Calls by Macron and others for a holiday truce have gone unheeded.

“It's a strong movement and still supported by public opinion,” said Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the CGT union as he visited picketing workers at a bus depot.

He lashed out at Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has said he wants no confrontation with the strikers, accusing him of not being true to his word.

“The government shows how agitated it is with this kind of conception of social dialogue,” said Martinez.

Transport in Paris remained paralyzed on Friday, a day the French capital would normally be crammed with shoppers seeking post-Christmas bargains or preparing for the New Year.

There appears to be no end in sight to the current walkouts with talks between the government and unions only set to resume on Jan 7 and major demonstrations planned two days later.

Just two driverless metro lines worked normally Friday and five lines were completely shut down. National rail operator SNCF said six out of every 10 high-speed TGV trains were running.

SNCF said in a statement that while 8.5% of its total employees were on strike, 38.8% of drivers were not working. It said just 35% of scheduled TGVs would be working on New Year's Day and 50 per cent on Jan 2.

New Year's Eve was also set to be affected with the driverless metro lines 1 and 14 the only ones working into the night, although more night buses were expected to run.

Buses have largely remained running, albeit with a much reduced service, but union activists blocked four Paris bus depots early Friday before being dispersed peacefully by Paris police, the local authorities said.

The unions are demanding the government drops a plan to merge 42 existing pension schemes into a single, points-based system. The overhaul would see workers in certain sectors - including the railways - lose early-retirement benefits.

The government says the shake-up is needed make the system fairer. But workers object to the inclusion of a so-called pivot age of 64 until which people would have to work to earn a full pension - two years beyond the official retirement age.
Macron is due to give his traditional New Year address on Dec 31 and his words will be watched closely for any sign the government is prepared to water down the reform.

Categories: Economy, Politics, International.

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