French Rail Workers Begin Strike Campaign
French rail workers have begun to strike on a national level in response to the months of transport disruption President Macron has contended with in modernizing the French economy. SNCF, a state-run company being overhauled by Macron, claimed that nearly half the necessary workers were absent, having joined protests to shave guaranteed employment and pensions.
Only a quarter of the Parisian train fleet was operational, with only one-eigth of all TGV trains running. Gare du Nord's platforms were so saturated with commuters that some individuals were pushed onto the tracks. Other stations experienced electrical issues, with inactive lights and ticketing machines. This chaos was coined "Black Tuesday" by the French media.
Many students, themselves protesting educational reforms, joined the rail workers' protests. Laborers in other sectors have lain down their tools in an gesture of solidarity with rail workers. The country's four major rail unions plan to strike every two of five days over a span of three months, totaling 36 days of disrupted commutes, in order to dislodge SNCF's monopoly prior to complying with EU rules.
The protests that began with Black Tuesday signal the semicentennial anniversary of student-led riots that caused France's economy to freeze. Comparatively speaking, these current protests are far less severe than the ones from 1968. Alain Juppe was the last French leader to contend with rail unions. The 1995 strikes locked the French economy and forced Juppe to rescind the policies that triggered the protest; Juppe's career never recovered from this decision.
As today's unions are far more weakened and less unified in how to approach Macron's reforms, Macron hopes to use this information to the nation's benefit. Should he succeed, the legislation will lay the groundwork for future reforms, such as education and pensions. Macron has already survived scraped with labor unions, expediting the process of gaining employment and being fired by an employer.
In a parliamentary address, Prime Minister Edouard Phillippe remarked that SNCF's actions could not continue, claiming that while he respected their constitutional rights, the strikes were directly impacting millions of other French jobs. While Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne asked the unions to negotiate, such requests were met with resistance.
Guillaume Pepy, the president of SNCF, has said that every day that its employees spend striking and protesting, instead of working, contributes 20 million euros in lost revenue. The company is already facing an annual debt of 47 billion euros.
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