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French road strike drags despite government compromise

Paris, France―A crippling French transport strike dragged into its 39th day on Sunday despite the government’s offer to withdraw the most contested measure of the pension reform plans that sparked the protest.

French road strike drags despite government compromise
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe looks on prior to delivering a speech on the government’s pensions overhaul, on the set of French TV channel France 2, in Paris on January 12, 2020. A crippling French transport strike dragged into its 39th day on January 12, 2020 despite the government’s offer to withdraw the most contested measure of the pension reform plans that sparked the protest. AFP
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Saturday he would drop plans to increase the official age for a full pension to 64 from 62 in an effort to end a strike which has paralyzed Paris and its suburbs, with a bus, train and metro services all badly disrupted.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the change “a constructive and responsible compromise.”

Philippe late Sunday called on the unions to take “responsibility.”

“Those who incite (the strikers) to continue the strike are leading them perhaps into a dead-end... I think that they need to assume their responsibilities,” Philippe said in a television interview.

The more reformist trade unions―the FDT, Unsa, and FRC―welcomed the compromise announcement and said they were now ready to work with employers on the sustainable financing of the state pension system.

The Unsa union for national railway workers maintained its strike call on Sunday while recognizing the government’s reconciliatory move.

The union “remains on strike” but will return to the negotiating table, secretary general Didier Mathis told AFP.

However, the more hardline CGT, FO and Solidaires unions were standing firms, calling for the strike and protests to continue, including a major demonstration on January 16.

French rail operator the SNCF said it expected services to improve on Monday.

Nine of 10 high-speed TGV trains would run on French and international routes, it said―and commuters in and around Paris could expect seven out of 10 trains to operate.

CGT head Philippe Martinez played down the impact of the CFDT and Unsa’s readiness to resume negotiations and spoke of internal splits within these groups.

“We will see” what these unions’ workers have to say on the issue, he said, reiterating his call for the government to withdraw the pension reforms completely which he described as “the major requirement of a majority of unions representing a majority of employees”.

However, the financial hit is weakening the resolve of some strikers. 

“It is clear that some colleagues want to go back to work,” said one disillusioned Paris Metro worker during demonstrations on Saturday.

“It’s going to get tricky financially,” he added.

Private sector workers have not followed the unions’ lead on the stoppage to turn the campaign into a true national strike.

The government was adamant that the strikers should now go back to work.

“There is no longer any reason for this strike movement to continue,” said Elisabeth Borne, minister in charge of transport.  

Topics: French transport strike , Edouard Philippe , Emmanuel Macron , Philippe Martinez
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