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French union to extend rail strike into summer

Jacques Demarthon, AFP | The standoff between Emmanuel Macron and French railworkers has been likened to Margaret Thatcher's showdown with British miners in the 1980s.

The head of France's main rail union on Friday announced it would extend months of rolling strikes into July even though the reforms it is protesting have been adopted by parliament.


The CGT Cheminots union and others have been striking every few days since early April over President Emmanuel Macron's controversial rail reforms, causing disruption for France's 4.5 million daily train commuters.

But parliament on Thursday gave final approval to Macron's overhaul of debt-laden state rail operator SNCF, handing him victory in a standoff that commentators have compared to former British premier Margaret Thatcher's battle with coal miners' unions in the 1980s.

Unions had planned to call off the strike on June 28, but CGT Cheminots chief Laurent Brun said his members would carry on with their walkouts into the busy summer season.

"We will carry on in July," he told France Info radio ahead of meetings Friday with the government and management to discuss a new labour agreement under the reformed SNCF.

"For how long? We'll see. How? We'll see. There is no question of stopping according to the schedule, so long as the government is trying to force its way through," he said.

Brun added that his union would try to find a way of alleviating the cost of lost pay for strikers, after 30 separate days of disruption.


Unions failed to win over public opinion during the strikes, and participation by rail workers dwindled with just 12.8 percent of SNCF staff taking part in the most recent walkout on Wednesday, down from around 34 percent in April.

Unions have been resisting plans to end life-long job security to new recruits, as well as plans to turn the SNCF into a joint-stock company, which they saw as a first step toward privatisation despite government denials.

Macron argues the SNCF, saddled by debts of some €47 billion ($55 billion), needs to cut costs and improve flexibility before the EU passenger rail market is opened up to competition.

Union leaders can claim to have won some concessions, including job guarantees for existing staff if they take a position with a new operator arriving in France.

The government has also pledged to take on €35 billion of SNCF debt and to not sell off the newly created SNCF shares.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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