April 3 (UPI) — French rail workers and unions launched rolling strikes Tuesday against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to overhaul France’s state transportation system.
The beginning of the strikes, named “Black Tuesday”, will disrupt France’s 4.5 million train passengers, as almost half of all train staff and 75 percent of drivers intended to participate in the walkout.
Roughly half of RER commuter trains to Paris were running and Eurostar, which runs service between London and Paris, canceled five trains Tuesday in each direction.
Strikes are planned to continue two days a week for three months until June 28 as unions push against Macron’s changes to France’s vast train system.
Macron plans to deny future train workers the job security, early retirement and special pensions of existing workers, while opening up SNCF, the indebted national railroad, to competition.
“This reform is essential,” Elisabeth Borne, France’s transport minister said, adding she’s willing to make some changes to meet union demands. “We are halfway through our discussions, why block the country? I am still open to dialog.”
The French government argues that SNCF has to be made more efficient, while unions and politicians on the left fear that changing the national railroad into a publicly listed company will lead to its privatization.
“We’re defending the French public service, not just rail workers,” said Emmanuel Grondein, head of Sud Rail, one of the four unions behind the strike.
A quarter of Air France flights were also grounded Tuesday by a separate strike over pay.