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France Rail Chaos Enters Third Day, ‘Weighing On Economy’

AFP — French rail users faced a third day of strike disruption on Thursday but airport workers cancelled a planned walkout, easing fears for the Euro 2016 football championships.

Around half the country’s trains were cancelled, but union hopes they could bring the transport mayhem into the heart of Paris appeared to have failed, with no sign that a planned subway strike had affected services.

With barely a week to go until the Euro 2016 kicks off on June 10, air traffic controllers called off a walkout due to hit over the weekend.

Although each of the strikes has its own motivations, the unions are united in opposition to the Socialist government’s new labour reforms that have sparked three months of often violent protests.

More demonstrations against the reforms — which the government says are designed to make France more business-friendly — are planned in Paris, Marseille, Toulouse and Nantes on Thursday.

The unions still have plenty of opportunities to cause headaches for the government during the football tournament, which already poses a major security challenge in the wake of last year’s jihadist attacks in Paris.

One Air France pilots’ union has already threatened a walkout starting on June 11, and nuclear power workers were back on strike on Thursday at 16 of the country’s 19 power stations.

– ‘Strongest mobilisation’ –

The head of the powerful CGT union, Philippe Martinez, has promised this week would see “the strongest mobilisation in three months,” but insisted the strikes were not intended to sabotage the Euro 2016.

“If the government says tomorrow ‘let’s talk,’ the strikes will stop,” he said Wednesday.

Railway operator SNCF said 17 percent of its staff had walked out as part of the rolling strike.

More than two-thirds of inter-city trains and nearly half of high-speed TGV services were cancelled Wednesday, with similar disruptions expected on Thursday.

Trains to Spain and Italy were heavily affected, but the Eurostar to Britain and other international services saw little impact.

Severe flooding around Paris and in the Loire Valley after days of torrential rain added to the misery.

An elderly woman was found dead in her flooded home in Souppes-sur-Loing in central France, parts of which have been hit by the worst flooding in more than 100 years.

Despite the disruption to their daily lives, 46 percent of French people still support the unions’ calls, an opinion poll in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed Sunday.

– ‘Weighing on economy’ –

The government has vowed not to capitulate to the unions, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls has decried the “waste” caused by the strikes.

“This conflict is weighing on our economy at a time when the actions of the government are allowing a rebound, growth and a fall in unemployment,” he told parliament on Wednesday.

The French government says its new labour law is aimed at reducing stubbornly high unemployment and making the struggling economy more business-friendly.

But unions are furious the government rammed the reforms through the lower house of parliament without a vote, and have called for another national day of strikes in two weeks when the bill goes before the Senate.

They say the law favours bosses by letting them set their own working conditions for new employees, rather than being bound to industry-wide agreements, allowing companies to cut jobs during hard times and go beyond the 35-hour work week.

Despite the often violent demonstrations, President Francois Hollande has refused to scrap the legislation and has criticised the unions for tarnishing France’s image.

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