UNIONS are continuing to turn the screw of Emmanuel Macron, with France’s beleaguered President reeling in the face of the longest strike the country has faced since the 1980s.
Mr Macron last week called on transport unions to suspend strikes over pension reform during the Christmas holidays to avoid travel disruption – but his appeal fell on deaf ears, and the industrial action has now entered its 23rd day – taking it past the 22-day strike of 1995 in protest against welfare cutbacks. Philippe Martinez, general secretary of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) gave no hint of any possible compromise, despite Mr Macron’s conciliatory tone days earlier.
He said: “It’s a strong movement and still supported by public opinion.”
In a mark addressed to French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe, he added: “The government shows how agitated it is with this kind of conception of social dialogue.”
He added: “I see the support of public opinion.
“Obviously, a transport strike is inconvenient, but when we face such a reform, which will completely upset our social system, which will make everyone retire later, I think it’s worth investing in the movement.”
The strike, which began on December 5, stems from anger at Mr Macron’s controversial pensions.
The overhaul would see workers in some sectors – including the railways – lose their early-retirement benefits, while millions more would see their pensions reduced.
The government argues the shake-up is needed to make the system fairer, especially for women and low earners.
However, workers object to the inclusion of a clause which would require people to work until 64 in order to qualify for a full pension so-called pivot age of 64 until which people would have to work to earn a full pension – two years past the official retirement age.
France’s longest transport strike, also over Christmas, lasted 28 days in 1986 and early 1987.
The latest strikes have caused widespread transport disruption, with only lines 1 and 14 or the Metro – both of which are automated – running as normal.
Lines 3, 4, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are currently operating a limited service at rush hour only, lines 2 and 11 are running a limited morning-rush-hour service and line 12 is only running in the evening.
Lines 3bis, 5, 6, 7bis and 13 are all closed.
The tram service is only slightly disrupted but the RER suburban train line, including the RER line B which links Paris with airports Charles De Gaule and Orly are only running twice a day, at 6.30am and 7pm.
Roughly 44 percent of staff working on SNCF, France’s national state-owned railway company, are currently on strike.
An Ifop poll published two days before Christmas, suggested 51 percent of French people supported the strike, with 34 percent opposed.
Commuter Audrey, a saleswoman, told broadcaster France 24 she backed the strikers, adding: “They want their voices to be heard, and, unfortunately, there is no other way.
“Of course there are elections, but it’s not enough.”
Speaking before Christmas, Mr Macron said: “Strike action is justifiable and protected by the constitution, but I think there are moments in a nation’s life when it is good to observe a truce out of respect for families and family life.”
It’s a strong movement and still supported by public opinion