High Impact in First Hours of Railway Strike in France

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French SNCF rail strike to defy Macron labour reforms

PARIS-President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday faced paralyzing transportation and utility strikes across France as workers and students protested his plans to overhaul the public sector.

A strike at railway operator SNCF began Monday evening and will run through Thursday morning, with only one in every eight long-distance trains running and one-in-five shorter regional trips due to depart on Tuesday.

He managed to pass controversial labor reforms in October, but the length and severity of the rail strikes are already earning comparisons with late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's showdown with coal miners in 1984.

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.

"This reform is necessary for travelers, necessary for the SNCF, necessary for the railway workers", she told CNN's affiliate BFM TV on Tuesday.

"This little melody being sung of "privileged railway workers" is intolerable", said Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union.

Air France workers also went on strike over pay today, although the company said it expected 75 per cent of flights to operate as usual.

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Just over half (51%) of those surveyed in Sunday's IFOP poll said they support the reforms. Only one in every three trains to Germany is operating, while three out of four Eurostar trains - which connect London, Paris, and Brussels - are running.

Train movements to other countries like the UK, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and Italy will also be affected because of the strike - from partial to total.

The French president wants to phase out lucrative SNCF contracts, which give workers a job-for-life guarantee, automatic annual pay rises, a generous early retirement policy, and free rail tickets for relatives.

The unions say the debt was caused by excessive investment in TGV trains at the expense of everyday connections and accuse Macron of paving the way for privatisation.

The government has sought to ease tensions with assurances that the arrival of foreign competition on French rail tracks, pencilled in for gradual rollout from 2020, can be delayed. This time around, however, all main trade unions in France have backed the railway strike.

Start on Tuesday, the unions will certainly strike 2 in each 5 days for the complying with 3 months to transform their rage at Macron's brand-new reforms. Further Air France action is planned for April 7, 10 and 11.

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