French strikes rumble on as PM vows to 'go to end'
Paris commuters battled to reach work again on Monday as a 40-day-old strike dragged on and France's premier vowed "to go to the end" with the pension reforms that sparked the action.
There was still major disruption on the Paris metro and the national railway system, even after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced a major concession to unions at the weekend.
But the situation was somewhat improved from previous weeks, with all Paris metro lines now open in peak hours and the trains running slightly more regularly.
National rail operator SNCF said eight out of ten high-speed TGV trains were operating, although slower regional trains were more affected.
"We are going to go to the end" in implementing the pension reforms, Philippe said on France 2 television late Sunday.
"Those who incite (workers) to continue the strike are leading them perhaps into a dead end... I think that they need to assume their responsibilities," he said.
"I think you know the phrase -- 'you need to know how to end a strike'. We are not far now," he added.
- 'Not end of the story' -
Philippe announced Saturday that he would drop plans to increase the official age for a full pension to 64 from 62, a move welcomed by more moderate trade unions like the CFDT.
President Emmanuel Macron, who has sought to stay above the fray throughout the crisis by relying on Philippe to deal with the unions, called the change "a constructive and responsible compromise."
But the more hardline CGT, FO and Solidaires unions were standing firm, calling for the strike and protests to continue, including another major demonstration on Thursday.
Demonstrators in the capital on Saturday, some masked and hooded, broke shop windows and set fires along their protest route, and threw projectiles at police in riot gear who responded with tear gas.
The government however is not budging on its overall plan for a universal scheme to rationalise 42 existing pension schemes into a single, points-based system it says will be fairer and more transparent.
"The end of the pivot age does not mean the end of the strike," commented the Le Parisien daily.
Laurent Berger, the head of the moderate CFDT, France's largest union, also struck a cautious note while reaffirming his welcome for the withdrawal of the so-called "pivot age" of 64 as "extremely important."
"We are far from being at the end of this story on the universal system for pensions and we will need to keep up the pressure," he told RTL Radio.
The strike has also been observed by other public-service workers affected by the reforms, including staff at the Paris Opera, which on Saturday cancelled its performance of "The Barber of Seville," its first show of 2020.
Lawyers have also been striking, with the first day of the keenly awaited trial of Bernard Preynat, a priest who is charged with abusing dozens of boy scouts in the southeastern Lyon area in the 1980s and 1990s, delayed to Tuesday from Monday.
"We are aware that this trial is very important but we think it would not be appropriate to give it special treatment," said the head of the Lyon bar association Serge Deygas at the court, accompanied by a dozen striking lawyers.
© 2020 AFP