Travel turmoil grips France as strike enters second day - GulfToday

Travel turmoil grips France as strike enters second day

France Strike 1

Railway workers demonstrating in southwestern France.AP

Travellers faced a second day of chaos across France on Friday as unions pressed on with a strike aimed at forcing President Emmanuel Macron to abandon pension reforms that brought nearly a million people onto the streets.

Dozens of trains, metros and flights were cancelled, many schools were again closed or offering only daycare, and four of the country's eight oil refineries remained blocked, raising the prospect of fuel shortages.

Rail operator SNCF has already halted ticket sales through the weekend, with 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains again cancelled Friday and little improvement expected over the weekend.

France Strike 3

An SNCF worker on strike standing on a rail platform.Reuters

Half of the Eurostar trains between Paris and London have been dropped, and just two of three Thalys trains serving Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were running.

The walkout is the latest test of Macron's mettle after months of protests from teachers, hospital workers, police and firefighters, capping a year of social unrest triggered by the "yellow vest" protest movement.

Unions say Macron's proposal for a single pension system, which would eliminate dozens of separate plans for public sector workers, would force millions of people in both the public and private sectors to work well beyond the official retirement age of 62.

- 'We need even more' -

At least 800,000 took part in rallies around the country on Thursday, according to the interior ministry, one of the biggest demonstrations of union strength in nearly a decade.

"There were lots of people on strike, now we need even more if we want to influence these decisions," Philippe Martinez of the hard-line CGT union told LCI television.

Several dozens of people were arrested, and three journalists were injured after reportedly being hit by tear gas or stun grenades, including a Turkish journalist who was struck in the face.

- Another 1995? -
Several airlines dropped flights as air traffic controllers walked off the job, with Air France cancelling 30 percent of domestic flights and 10 percent of nearby international routes.

In Paris, nine of the capital's 16 metro lines were shut while many others were running only during rush hours, prompting commuters turning to bicycles, electric scooters and other alternatives.

But it remains to be seen if the protests will match the magnitude of the 1995 strikes against pension overhauls when France was paralysed for three weeks from November to December in an action that forced the government to back down.

Agence France-Presse