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Sat, 07 Dec 2019 08:45 GMT

Massive December Strike Looms in France


7Dnews London

Tue, 03 Dec 2019 19:55 GMT

Flights at airports, TGV, and Eurostar trains are all expected to be disrupted on Thursday, December 5th, along with many other services in France, against proposals to reform retirement and pension legislation.

The December strike poses one of the biggest challenges yet to President Emmanuel Macron's sweeping reform drive. It comes as labour unions protest against plans they say will require millions to retire later or face reduced pensions.

President Macron wishes to streamline the current pension system comprising 42 separate regimes into a single operating system. The new system would introduce a “points system” of retirement, which threatens the current early retirement age of many public service workers.

In response, unions said that the changes would effectively require millions of private-sector workers to work beyond the legal retirement age of 62 if they want to receive the full pension they have been promised.

"The flagrant provocation is trying to say this reform would affect only the special schemes," Philippe Martinez of the hard-line General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union said last week.

"It's a shameful lie," he continued. "Everyone understands that it's a reform that will affect the public as well as the private sector."

Swathes of French society, from police and firefighters to teachers and hospital employees, as well as a yearlong "yellow vest" campaign, expressed their discontent about the reform plans. Meanwhile, the government has already held a number of meetings to thrash out a common strategy to defend reforms – described as "essential" by President Macron.

On Thursday, December 5th, the strike is expected to be nationwide, with train and bus drivers, air traffic controllers, electricity supply workers, truck drivers, oil refineries, teachers, students, police officers, lawyers, judges, and street-cleaners all threatening to stay out of work for an indefinite period.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has acknowledged that French workers will gradually work longer, but no concrete details of the overhaul are to be announced before mid-December.

According to an Ifop poll published on Sunday, December 1st, 76% of respondents back the reform, while 64% do not trust the government to pull it off.

The railway company SNCF and Paris metro operator RATP will announce at 5.00 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Tuesday the likely number of service cuts, expected to match a similar protest on September 13th, when most Paris lines were shut down completely.

An SNCF spokeswoman said they cannot predict how many trains will be affected, saying that the company is organising deals with alternative providers such as car-sharing with BlaBlaCar, coaches with BlaBlaBus and Eurolines, car rental with Avis, and peer-to-peer rental with Ouicar.

In a similar vein, Eurostar expects only half of its trains to be running on Thursday and Friday, and slightly more at the weekend as well as some cancellations on Monday and Tuesday next week.

The firm also warns that there will be major disruptions to Métro and RER train services in Paris and to connecting trains to destinations across France. In addition, refunds and exchanges are available for cancelled trains.

Marches are planned in dozens of cities across France. Demonstrations in Paris are expected to converge on the Place de la Nation, with officials already ordering businesses along protest routes to close.

Francois Asselin, president of the CPME association of small and midsize businesses, said, “We estimate that a day of general strikes takes away some €400 million ($440 million) of revenues for the country, including nearly €200 million for the Paris region.”

It is noteworthy to mention that a similar strike in the winter of 1995, also against pension reform, forced the Alan Juppé government to reverse plans to change the system.

"The social discontent now is stronger than it was in 1995," said Bernard Thibault, a former CGT leader during the protests 24 years ago.