Hundreds of railway workers descended on central Paris as strikes against President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms to revoke their special status entered their fourth day.
The workers gathered at Place des Invalides, the nearest possible site to the National Assembly, where the debate over the controversial reform was commencing.
Unions have called for three months of staggered strikes, meaning there are few or no trains nationwide for two out of every five days until late June at the earliest.
Some 80 percent of French high-speed trains stood still and about a quarter of international trains, including the London-to-Paris Eurostar, were affected.
Guillaume Pepy, head of the national rail operator, SNCF, estimated that the industrial action had already cost the state-controlled company – and by extension the French taxpayer – €100 million (£87m) and would cost it an additional €20 million per day.
In a sign that Mr Macron is concerned the protests could turn even more venomous, the president some call Jupiter for his lofty vision of his role, will descend into the political arena this week with two long TV interviews to explain his reform almost a year after taking office.
One interview will take place in a village in rural France. On Sunday, Edouard Philippe, the prime minister, pledged that that government would not cave in over the latest reform, which he said was essential to get the heavily-indebted SNCF back on the rails as it prepares for European competition in 2020.
They intend to change rail workers’ special status gifting them highly protected jobs and early retirement.
Unions, in particular the hard-line CGT, are equally determined to stand firm, saying the reform is the first stage towards full-blown privatisation, a claim the government vehemently denies.
Public opinion appears to be on the government’s side for now, with a poll in Sunday’s JDD newspaper suggesting that 62 per cent wanted the government to proceed with its reform regardless of the strikes.
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