Air France strike as unions turn up heat on Macron


Paris (AFP)

Air France crew went on strike Friday, forcing the cancellation of about a quarter of the airline's flights as unions discussed further protests against reformist President Emmanuel Macron.

Pilots, cabin crew and ground staff joined the strike at Air France to push for a 6.0-percent rise in salaries after the group posted profits for 2017 following years of restructuring.

That tussle is separate to the larger and politically more significant standoff between Macron's centrist, business-friendly government and public sector trade unions fighting its reform plans.

Around 300,000 train drivers, teachers and civil servants joined nationwide protests and strikes on Thursday, according to interior ministry figures, in the first of what promises to be a series of major disturbances.

The hard-left CGT union, the biggest in the public sector, called for another national day of protests on April 19 and announced a rolling strike for rubbish collectors from April 3.

Opinions varied over whether Thursday's strike had sent a message to Macron, with some commentators viewing turnout as low, while others hailing its strength.

"The street returns," left-leaning Liberation newspaper headlined on its front-page on Friday, whereas Le Parisien concluded: "It's not taking off."

Rail workers have announced stoppages on two days out of every five between April and June in what threatens to be the biggest test of Macron's resolve since his election in May last year.

Public opinion is largely behind his bid to remove job privileges for new hires at debt-laden state railway operator SNCF where workers have job-for-life guarantees and pension benefits that see many retire in their 50s.

Macron has also pledged to cut 120,000 of more than 5 million public sector jobs, wants to make greater use of merit-based pay and has raised the spectre of greater outsourcing.