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France's pension reform strike longest since 1968

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France's pension reform strike longest since 1968
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AP Photo/Michel Euler - Michel Euler
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France's transport strike over the government's pension reform entered its 29th consecutive day today — making it the longest walkout since 1968.

On Thursday it surpassed the 1986-1987 strike at the state-operated SNCF rail company, which saw workers down tools for 28 days over pay and work conditions.

The current strike, which shows no sign of abating, is now similar in length to the month-long industrial action that began in May 1968.

President Emmanuel Macron, in his New Year's address, vowed to push ahead with the reforms. He said not changing the country's complicated pension system would be a "betrayal of our children, their children after them, who would then have to pay the price for our giving up".

He thus vowed to "carry out the reform to its end" and called for a "rapid compromise" between unions and the government.

The two sides are expected to convene once more to the negotiating table on January 7. Unions have, for now, called for another day of national action on January 9.

The government wants to bring together the 42 pension systems into a single points-based scheme. It also wants to phase out the early retirement advantages certain sectors — primarily in the civil service — enjoy by adjusting so-called "hardship" criterion.

France is regularly hit with transport chaos as railway workers strike. Last year, SNCF employees went on strike for 36 days across three months over a change of the company's structure.

They also carried out two-week strikes in 2001, 2014 and in 2010 — the latter of which was already to oppose pension reform.

In 1995, another planned reform of the pension system targeting the civil service had led to 22 consecutive days of the strike.

The current strike has severely crippled rail travel across the country over the holiday period which may have hit public support, already quite divided before Christmas.

A poll conducted by pollster Ifop in the lead-up to the holiday season found that a very slim majority (51%) of the public backed the strikers, while another, by YouGov, estimated that 55% did not support it.

On Thursday, just one in three high-speed trains and one in 10 cross-country services were running according to the SNCF. The Parisian public transport system also continued to be impacted with 14 out of the capital city's 16 subway lines running reduced services.

Traffic should improve somewhat this weekend with two out of three high-speed trains running with "an almost normal service" to several major cities including Lyon, Marseille and Lille.

To facilitate last-minute reservations, the SNCF has also planned to sell 100,000 tickets at "attractive" prices and "guaranteed until January 5 at less than €40".

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