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  • Despite the government's and media's attempt to portray the national strike as a major inconvenience for users of public transports, the movement is still supported by the majority of the French population according to several surveys.

    Despite the government's and media's attempt to portray the national strike as a major inconvenience for users of public transports, the movement is still supported by the majority of the French population according to several surveys. | Photo: Reuters

Published 30 December 2019

The 1995 protests were also against proposed changes to the country’s retirement pay, forcing the then prime minister Alain Juppe to withdraw his plans to suppress public pension schemes.

Strikes on French railways and the Paris metro against pension reforms could become the longest ever seen in the country, as Sunday marked 25 days of strike action, exceeding mobilizations in 1995 which lasted 22 days.

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France: Unions, Yellow Vests, Transporters Take to the Streets

The French National Railway Company (SNCF) has seen two other movements that have lasted longer than this one.

One took place between December 1986 and January 1987 for 29 days against changes in wages.

Another was held in 2018 against the abolition of the company’s public statute, which lasted for 36 days, although not continuously.

French President Emmanuel Macron unsuccessfully called for the strikers to suspend actions during the Christmas period so people could travel. Polls have shown that most people supported the strike despite the inconvenience of scattered transportation.

Meanwhile, the former bank executive has not been in a hurry to open a new round of negotiations.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the next round of discussions will begin on 7 January once the holidays have ended and two days after a new day of national demonstrations convened by the unions.

The executive’s strategy to exhaust the movement has not given the expected results so far, despite a call from reformist unions to pause the stoppages during the holidays.

On the contrary, tensions between the executive and the main union behind the protests, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), increased on Sunday, as CGT leader Philippe Martinez accused the government of “having created this mess” in an interview published in weekly French newspaper Le Journal Du Dimanche.

Secretary of State for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari responded in the same newspaper that the union “practices blocking and intimidation.”

The rate of strikers in the SNCF has been relatively low in global terms, around nine percent of a workforce of about 140,000 employees, but much higher among engineers, 42 percent, who occupy key positions for the trains to run.

At the beginning of the mobilization in December 5th, the rate of engineers taking part was 86 percent.

The other branch of the protest is the Autonomous Parisian Transportation Administration (RATP). Disturbances to the service have been as important if not more important as most of the subway lines were left completely or partially without service.

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