France braced Monday for the start of three months of rolling rail strikes, the first in a series of walkouts in a wide range of sectors from energy to garbage collection as President Emmanuel Macron's neoliberal agenda is criticized for affecting the country's poorest.
The real action begins on what the press has dubbed "Black Tuesday," with only one high-speed TGV train out of eight running and one regional train out of five in the strike against a major overhaul of the partially public train company SNCF.
The mainstream media has focused on the commuters who were already forced to change their travel plans, heavily highlighting how workers on strike were "taking them hostages" for not allowing them to use transports.
"We are flying to New York and the strike has completely overthrown our plans," Sophie Martin, 46, told AFP at the main station in the southern city of Lyon. "The train strike is inadmissible. It's too easy to take people hostage," added her husband Olivier, 50.
The rail strikes, set to last until June 28, are being seen as the biggest challenge yet to 40-year-old Macron's sweeping plans to carry out the neoliberal reforms in France that many compare with British Margaret Thatcher's showdown with British coal unions in 1984.
Unions accuse the ex-investment banker of seeking to "destroy the public railways through pure ideological dogmatism."
Air France, meanwhile, is set to operate 75 percent of flights Tuesday as staff stage their fourth strike in a month seeking a six-percent pay rise —unrelated with Macron's reforms.
Macron's government says the SNCF needs deep reforms as EU countries prepare to open passenger rail to competition by 2020. But unions say that the reform consists in a first step towards privatizing the SNCF — a claim the government denies — and object to plans to strip new hires of a special rail workers' status guaranteeing jobs for life and early retirement.
Unions have so far failed to block Macron's reforms, including controversial changes to the labor code, despite several mass protests drawing tens of thousands of people to the streets.
Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, has called for different forces opposed to Macron's agenda — including pensioners and student groups — to "bring their fights together".
An Ifop survey on Sunday showed sympathy growing for SNCF staff, with 46 percent backing the strike, up four points from two weeks ago.