Thursday saw the first real test
for Emmanuel Macron’s reformist drive. Rail workers, hospital employees, school teachers, air traffic controllers and other government services took to the streets in protest. Although each group had different reasons for dropping work to join the demonstrations, the trade unions were hoping to increase the pressure on Edouard Philippe’s government with a joint day of action.
France’s 150,000 railway workers are particularly angry at Macron. The President wants to abolish the special status
that the ‘cheminots
’ have been enjoying since 1909. This elevated position makes it almost impossible to fire them from their posts. As it currently stands, they’re able to retire between the ages of 52 and 57, and they enjoy a favourable, yet costly, personal, pension scheme. Macron wants to put an end to these privileges, at least for new employees. According to the government, the reform is necessary to make the SNCF competitive within the European rail sector in the upcoming year
This was the first of no less than 36 strike days
planned by the trade unions. Their 48-hour strikes are scheduled to take place every five days, for the next three months. The unions call this a grève en pointillés
, a dotted line strike, which causes the highest level of disturbance to public transport without making the country completely inaccessible.
The strikers, however, were to get a taste of their own medicine. For logistical reasons, the SNCF cancelled
some of the trains that protestors were intending to use to travel to the rallies in Paris on Thursday. The unions are now accusing the management of sabotaging their movement.