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04 April 2018, 01:14 | Myrtle Vega
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French railway services were decimated on Tuesday, the first day of rolling strikes which are due to run for months in a serious test for President Emmanuel Macron's resolve to modernize the French economy.
For a total of 36 days of strike that was set to last until the end of June, the rail workers were expected to alternate between two days of strike action and three at work.
Workers now enjoy generous contract and benefits, but the French government is looking to reform contracts for new workers. The strikes of 1995 paralyzed France and forced prime minister Alain Juppe to pull the reforms - a defeat which ultimately prompted Juppe to quit.
As the strikes got underway on Tuesday, French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said the government would stick to its position in talks with the unions, adding that she believed some were seeking to fan the flames of confrontation.
The unions appear weaker now, however, and are divided over their responses to Macron's many social and economic reforms.
A senior SNCF manager, Alain Krakovitch, told Le Parisien that only 12% of high-speed TGV trains would operate on Tuesday, and the low-priced Ouigo service would be at a standstill. "We're defending the French public service, not just rail workers", said Grondein, head of Sud Rail, one of the four unions behind the action.
The railway strike started today in France with high impact, after the cancellation of over half the trains expected in a country where 4.5 million persons use that service every day.
Global services were also disrupted, with no trains running between France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain and the Eurostar connecting London, Paris and Brussels operating a reduced service.
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SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy warned entire lines could be closed as a result.
"I must say that I hear the strikers, who speak fervently at times, as much as I hear those who do not accept this strike", Mr Philippe said.
If Macron triumphs over the unions, it will set the tone for other key reform plans including revamping the education system and overhauling pensions.
Other sectors could join the strike as it continues in protest at broader changes to labor laws proposed by Macron.
French President Emmanuel Macron is facing his largest domestic challenge yet to the raft of reforms he's been working to implement since he took office in 2017.
The government has sought to ease tensions with assurances that the arrival of foreign competition on French rail tracks, pencilled in for gradual rollout from 2020, can be delayed.
The Communist-rooted CGT wants the strike to spread beyond the rail sector.
- Air France, garbage collectors and some energy workers were also striking in separate walkouts.
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