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SNCF, Pixabay

French strike: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’

French riot police, had to fire tear gas in response to angry transport protesters in Paris and in Nantes tear gas as well as water cannons were used against strikers.

Published: March 23, 2018, 10:23 am

    Paris

    Public services were disrupted across the country on Thursday as teachers, train conductors and airline controllers called labour action against President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed reforms.

    “I’ve never seen anything like it, never seen a threat like it,” Guillaume Pepy, chairman of the SNCF state rail company, told RTL radio.

    Electricity generation in France dropped by over three gigawatts (GW) on Thursday – the equivalent of three nuclear reactors – as energy sector workers joined the protest consisting of some 150 marches countrywide.

    This is the first large protest against Macron, ahead of a rolling rail strike, The Express reported.

    Rail workers are planning a three-month rolling strike starting April 3 with two days of action each week, Reuters reported.

    They say they are fighting to keep their job-for-life guarantees, automatic annual pay rises and early retirement payments.

    Chaos reigned at Paris’ Gare du Nord station with the labour action expected to lead to the cancellation of 60 percent of fast trains, 75 percent of inter-city trains and about 30 percent of Paris airports’ flights.

    The action is shaping up to be the biggest challenge of Macron’s presidency since he took office last May. In 1995, the CGT, the biggest union among the roughly 150 000 SNCF rail staff, had forced the then-prime minister, Alain Juppe, to quit.

    Seven unions representing staff in the public sector, and a third of railway workers walked out on Thursday.

    The state’s privatisation drive is set to accelerate in 2018 as it prepares to sell off state assets. Aéroports de Paris, operator of Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, has become the focus of attention, after Macron appointed Bank of America Merrill Lynch to “explore options” to sell off the 50.6 percent it holds.

    France has equity positions in 81 French companies, totalling €100bn and ranging from defence companies such as Safran to carmakers such as Renault and the nuclear group EDF, The Financial Times noted.

    Stakes in Engie, the energy utility, and Française des Jeux, the state gaming company, are expected to be sold off this year as well as in Orange, the telecoms group.

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