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Macron under pressure as French strike heads for the record books

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By Alastair Jamieson  & AFP
The boss of the CGT union says Macron is imitating Margaret Thatcher
The boss of the CGT union says Macron is imitating Margaret Thatcher   -   Copyright  AP   -   Michel Euler

Emmanuel Macron is expected to address the crisis over his pension reforms in his New Year message as a nationwide strike threatens to become the longest in French history.

The president’s annual televised remarks are likely to indicate how he intends to tackle widespread transport stoppages in protest at his plan to merge 42 public pension schemes into a single, points-based system.

Fewer than half of national carrier SNCF's services were running and many Paris metro lines remained shut on Monday as the strike entered its 26th consecutive day.

The strike is now the second-longest in French history and is on course to surpass the longest, which lasted for 28 days in the winter of 1986/87.

However, Macron has been silent on the crisis except for a plea to unions for a Christmas truce that was ignored.

Macron 'imitating Margaret Thatcher'

In an interview with Dimanche newspaper, Deputy Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari accused the hardline CGT union of a "systematic opposition to any reform.”

However, the union's chief, Philippe Martinez, accused the government of trying to ensure the conflict deteriorated further.

"Emmanuel Macron presents himself as a man of a new world but he is imitating Margaret Thatcher," he said. "There is real anger. Of course, not being paid for 24 days is tough. But the conflict is the result of two-and-a-half years of suffering.”

He said he expected Macron to offer some kind of conciliation in his address on Tuesday evening, as well as recognition that "most people are not happy and that he was wrong.”

Empty seats on TGV

Separately, there was anger at SNCF as strike-hit passengers were told trains were fully booked only to discover they were half-empty.

Angry users posted pictures of dozens of empty seats on the few TGV trains in service, saying the operating company should be doing more to help stranded passengers from cancelled services to get moving.

SNCF said the problem was caused by ticket-holders deciding not to travel.