Home Featured Stories France’s National Train System “Grinds To a Halt” as Massive Protests Continue

France’s National Train System “Grinds To a Halt” as Massive Protests Continue


French labor unions won’t be giving any presents to citizens who want to travel by train this Christmas.

That’s because strikes by transport workers against the government’s pension-reform plan have shut down half of national train services this weekend, with 59% of services expected to be cut on December 23-24, according to Bloomberg.

French railway company, SNCF, has suspended its unaccompanied minor service, canceling about 6,000 tickets for children this week. Four out of five trains were also suspended in the greater Paris area and the capital’s metro system also stopped, with the exception of two automated lines.

French President Emmanuel Macron urged the unions to come to a truce for the holiday week at the same time public support for the strike during the holiday had fallen to 51%. This is down from 63% just five days prior. However, a poll on Thursday showed 55% of respondents thought the labor unions were “wrong” to strike during the holiday period.

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Macron commented: “Strikes are protected by the constitution. But there are times in a nation’s history when it’s also good to know when to call a truce to respect families and family life.”

Some unions are calling for truces, others aren’t. And the strikes seem to be having an impact. Polls show 57% of people reject Macron’s pension reform, which is higher than when the protests started on December 5. Some unions have called for a new day of demonstrations on January 9.

Macron’s administration has had better success with tax and labor laws, but the French people are “wedded to their pension system”, making reform a difficult task. Macron aims to merge 42 separate regimes into a single, universal points-based system.

The plan also seeks to raise the age for full benefits from 62 to 64. Workers have stood in stark opposition to the changes while the French government aims to phase out special retirement plans for sectors ranging from train conductors to dancers at the Paris Opera.

Macron has tried to lead by example, but to no avail:

Le Parisien newspaper reported on Sunday that Macron will also give up his right under a 1955 law to a set pension for life granted to French presidents once they finish their mandate and will instead switch to a points-based calculation. He will also abandon the right to a post for life at France’s Constitutional Council, which brings with it 13,500 euros ($14,957) in compensation, the paper said.

Samuel Boivin/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Meanwhile, the strikes are resulting in a surge of bookings for car-sharing services, which has, in turn, led to hundreds of miles of traffic jams around the French capital.

Car sharing bookings have “doubled” since the start of the protests and have beaten records, ride hailing company BlaBlaCar said. The company says it’ll have 2 million seats available between Dec. 20 and Jan. 5, which works out to the equivalent of 5,000 TGV high speed trains – but, you know, moving much slower.

Nicolas Brusson, chief executive officer of BlaBlaCar, said: “We see a real solidarity of drivers, more people are offering seats than ever.”

SNCF says it’ll try to keep the main lines running on December 23 and December 24. Union leaders met with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Wednesday and Thursday, but said that talks failed to advance. 69% of people polled said they expect the government to push through with reforms without caving to protests.

One French union, the CFDT, called for a truce over the holiday. Laurent Berger, the leader of the CFDT, said: “Everyone should be able to travel freely to do what they need to do during the holiday season.”

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