Strikes challenge Macron across France

Posted March 25, 2018

"Discontent and worry are spreading very quickly", said Jean-Marc Canon of UGFF-CGT, one of the largest civil servants' unions.

Macron wants to reduce government spending by cutting jobs, going from fixed employment to contracted work, and lowering budgets. Macron has promised to cut the number of public workers by 120,000 over five years.

"We agree that we need to make changes to public services, but not to restrain them". But France needs us.

"We agreed - Germany and France at least - that such reactions are still necessary in addition to recalling the ambassador".

"Theresa May presented us with certain evidence", Merkel said, responding to a journalist's question about the evidence the British prime minister had shared with European Union leaders, which would point to "the Russian trail" in this case.

Only 40 percent of high-speed TGV trains and around a third of commuter trains were operating, CNN's Jim Bitterman reported from Paris' Gare Saint-Lazare railway station.

"Ryanair call on the French Government and European Commission to take immediate action to prevent the skies over Europe being closed yet again", read a statement from the airline.

According to the investigative newspaper Le Canard Enchaine, Macron told advisors on Monday he was feeling "serene" and said the day of strikes was "not a cause for panic".

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The demonstrators are protesting Macron's plans to trim public sector employee's retirement benefits, overhaul unemployment insurance and allow SNCF's competitors to enter the French market which has a decades long monopoly.

The walk-outs and demonstrations are the latest test of strength for 40-year-old centrist Macron as he pushes ahead with a new phase of his agenda to overhaul state rail operator SNCF and other public services. Air France says it will operate 60 percent of its domestic flights at Orly airport and 75 percent of its medium-haul flights from Charles de Gaulle airport.

"Either they (the government) listen to us and it will have been just a warning shot, or they don't listen to us and then, let me tell you that public-sector workers are very mobilized", Laurent Berger, the head of France's largest union, the CFDT, told RTL radio, according to Reuters.

France's once fearsome unions have regularly forced governments into policy U-turns in the past, but Macron and his ministers have vowed not to yield.

"These strikes are always hard and we know that is not good for transport users and the public in general", Yves Veyrier a spokesman for the union Force Ouvriere told The Local.

"People must understand, this is a last resort and this is about the future of France's public service for everyone".

The March 22 date was chosen deliberately to echo the start of nationwide protests in 1968 that led to the country's biggest-ever strike and notorious street battles between police and students in Paris in May of that year.