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France rail unions wage war on Macron with rolling strikes

Commuter crush spills onto tracks at Paris's busiest station Gare du Nord
Commuter crush spills onto tracks at Paris's busiest station Gare du Nord
By Tokunbo Salako with Reuters
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Industrial action over government plans to change rail workers' benefits and status is set to continue for three months


A strike by French rail workers is causing travel chaos across the country.

The mass walkout is over government plans to reform the industry and reduce the crippling debt of train operator SNCF. Refuse, energy workers and students are also taking action.

French media have dubbed the day "Black Tuesday". State-run rail company SNCF said 48 percent of workers needed for the network's smooth running were absent, protesting at plans to rewrite staff benefits including job guarantees and generous pensions.

But there is mixed support for the action among commuters.

Aziza Fleris voiced her frustration on her way through the French capital on Tuesday morning: 

"I was really positive this morning but now... you should have seen what happened on the train. Some people felt unwell, women were crying. Children. This isn't normal."

Only one in four trains are running in the Paris region; a situation repeated across the country. Rail bosses say people trying to travel will have to be patient.

"Right now, the situation is calm. It's all going ahead as planned. I am reminding travelers to postpone their trip if possible if they don't receive an sms confirming their train is circulating," said

Amar Chaabi, director of Paris Gare de Lyon.

It is not only train passengers who facing a tough test. With rail workers set to take action for two days in every five over the next three months, this is the biggest challenge yet to President Emmanuel Macron fledgling economic reform plans.

The last French president to square off against rail unions over workers' benefits came off worst. The strikes of 1995 paralysed France and forced conservative prime minister Alain Juppe to pull the reforms - a defeat from which he did not recover and that led to then-president Jacques Chirac dissolving the government.

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