Published: Sun, March 25, 2018
Finance | By Kristine Clayton

Macron Faces First Major Strike as Unions Oppose Planned Reforms

Macron Faces First Major Strike as Unions Oppose Planned Reforms

On Thursday, tens of thousands of public sector workers went on strike across the country to protest Macron's planned reforms, which are part of a plan to cut state costs.

"We're here against the government, which is only helping the rich".

This Thursday's mobilization is considered the prelude of what will happen from April to June: the SNCF summoned a two-day strike of every five during those three months, meaning 36 days of paralization of train services.

French President Emmanuel Macron was more specific about the matter when he addressed the issue at a news conference in Paris upon his return from the European Union summit in Brussels on Friday.

France's centrist president, who has been in power for almost a year, has so far avoided large strikes and trade union action, managing to easily push through an overhaul of labour laws in the autumn despite limited street marches.

Unions deliberately chose March 22nd as the launch date for the strikes to coincide with the start of France's legendary protests in 1968 that saw pitched street battles between police and students.

Despite standing by labor reforms proposed by Macron, the government is concerned about the protests mushrooming further.

"What we need to avoid is that all the grievances fuse together, as was the case in 1995", a government official said, referring to France's biggest strike in decades, which forced the government at the time to withdraw reforms.

But the first round of their battle against Macron in September and October previous year - over changes to labour law - ended in disappointment and saw the ex-investment banker prevail.

Sixty percent of fast trains, 75 percent of inter-city trains and 30 percent of flights to and from Paris airports were canceled because of the strike.

More than 140 protests have been planned across France in total, with the biggest set to take place at the Bastille monument in Paris in the afternoon, where unions expect 25,000 demonstrators.

Services ground to a halt across the country yesterday.

Railway workers are anxious by government plans to scrap job-for-life guarantees and automatic annual pay rises. National train company SNCF said only 40 percent of high-speed trains and half of regional trains were running.

The disruption is expected to cause a major headache for management even on non-strike days because trains and staff will not be where they are supposed to be. Protesters also want to derail Macron's plans to raise a special tax used to finance welfare which hits pensioners particularly hard, overhaul unemployment insurance and shake up the highly indebted state railway company.

The rest of the morning rally in Nantes was peaceful, with protesters marching behind a banner that read "All together against austerity, let's defend public services".

A new poll published by BVA Friday shows 57 percent of the French population has a negative opinion about the president.

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