Millions pledged in funds for striking French workers


Paris (AFP)

Supporters of the strikes that have paralysed public transport in Paris have pledged over 3 million euros in support for workers going without pay over the past month, according to an estimate Thursday.

Multiple funds have been launched to help compensate the tens of thousands of workers taking part in the longest transport strike in France in decades.

By Thursday, more than 50,000 people had contributed to around 200 different online funds, which between them have amassed over 3 million euros ($3.3 million), according to the @caissesdegreve Twitter account, which tracks the contributions on a daily basis.

The biggest fund, set up by France's second largest union, the hardline CGT, has raised nearly 2.2 million euros since the strike over President Emmanuel Macron's proposals for sweeping overhauls to the pension system began on December 5.

Unlike France's biggest union, the CFDT, the CGT, which is the biggest at national rail operator SNCF, does not have its own strike war chest funded by members' dues.

One of the biggest contributions to its online fund came from a group of gamers, artists and activists who raised over 100,000 euros from viewers through the Twitch live streaming platform.

- 'Troop morale' -

The public show of support has had a big effect on "troop morale", said the coordinator of the Info'com-CGT fund, Romain Altmann.

"While I cannot unfortunately join you on strike I am with you!" one donor named Helene wrote on the fund's page, adding that although the lack of public transport had forced her to walk with a sprained ankle, "I consider every step as support for all the strikers."

Participation in the stayaway has varied from day to day, with peaks exceeding 50 percent.

As the standoff continues, public support for the strike, which remained high throughout the first month, has begun to fall.

A Harris Interactive poll released Monday showed 60 percent backing the industrial action, down nine points since it started.

An Ifop poll gave it just 44 percent backing, down seven points from the previous survey on December 19-20.

Most of the 200-plus online funds target specific groups of workers.

A fund for train drivers in Grenoble for example has raised more than 35,000 euros.

At a meeting of striking rail workers at Gare du Nord station in Paris, at least two supporters came bearing cheques or cash, an AFP reporter witnessed.

Francois Lescure, a 69-year-old retired university professor, handed over a cheque for 350 euros -- his second such contribution in a week.

Explaining his gesture, Lescure told AFP that the government's proposals to fuse France's 42 different retirement schemes into a single points-based system would lead to a "drastic decline in pension levels".

As the strike entered its 36th day, and opponents of the pension reforms staged a fourth series of mass rallies, 45-year-old rail traffic controller Luis Da Silva vowed: "We won't give in."

After a lean December, Da Silva is expecting "zero pay" this month.

The donations received from the public could not hope to compensate for his lost earnings, he said, but insisted: "We're bearing up."