French Rail Workers Launch Strike

Emmanuel Macron

Train services between Switzerland, Italy and Spain are not expected to operate at all today as a result of the action.

The unions accuse President Macron, a centrist ex-investment banker, of seeking to "destroy the public railways through pure ideological dogmatism", and are concerned that plans to turn the SNCF into a publicly listed company, even with the state owning 100 percent of shares, could eventually lead to the rail operator being privatized - something the government denies. "They don't want to do it in a progressive manner, they want to do it in an accelerated manner".

The government has painted the rail workers as enjoying outdated privileges, a notion the unions reject. The next is scheduled for April 8-9.

"I want to be very clear. the strike action will no doubt be widely adhered to and is going to make the lives of a lot of people very hard", SNCF boss Guillaume Pepy said in a radio interview, as quoted by Reuters.

France's high taxes and strict labour laws have long hurt its image with foreign investors, although that is changing after Macron made it easier to hire and fire workers and committed to cutting corporate tax to the European Union average.

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

- Air France, garbage collectors and some energy workers were also striking in separate walkouts. Three further strike days are planned in the next ten days.

Business France said Macron's May 2017 election on a pro-business reform agenda - a break with the traditional right-left mould of French politics - had boosted France's image among foreign investors. His pledge echoed the promises of several previous French presidents, none of whom were able to implement the changes due to strong union opposition. It also wants to force the company to become more efficient.

The last French leader to square off against the rail unions came off worst.

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

His government is planning to stop granting the rail workers' special status - which guarantees jobs for life and early retirement - to new SNCF hires entering the company. Union bosses have also expressed concern that increasing the competitiveness of the railways could mean increased ticket prices for travelers.

"Black Tuesday", as it has been called by the French media, saw severe disruptions as services were cancelled and delayed.

"This little melody being sung of "privileged railway workers" is intolerable", Martinez said.

In the southern city of Lyon, lawyer Perrine Fontana said the rolling strikes were going to cause "huge problems" for her because she frequently travels for work."I can understand the railroad workers to a certain degree, but their strike challenges the personal and professional lives of many people", the 27-year-old said.At the busy Gare du Lyon station in Paris, the platforms were so crammed that a woman fell onto the tracks and had to be helped out by fellow passengers.

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