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Rail strikes begin in earnest to save France's public network

ROCK-SOLID strikes across the French railway network caused travel chaos today, with only one in four trains running in the Paris region.

Just one in eight high-speed TGV services was running and one in five regional trains.

Unions took their first full day of action as part of three months of rolling strikes against attacks on workers’ conditions and plans to introduce competition into the service.

Workers plan to strike for two days a week and work the other three days in a showdown with President Emmanuel Macron that his supporters compare to Margaret Thatcher’s war against coal miners, which crippled the industry and permanently weakened the British trade union movement.

Trade union leaders Laurent Brun (CGT rail workers), Erik Meyer (Unsa) and Didier Aubert of CFDT rail workers said the fight was to “safeguard a public service that meets the needs of the population and guarantees equal access in all territories.”

In accordance with the European Union’s fourth railway package, which instructs member states to open their railway networks to competition, Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne is pushing for the SNCF to be turned into a publicly financed corporation that operates on commercial lines and will allow tendering for routes from 2019.

“For users, this step towards liberalisation is synonymous with line closures, lower quality of service and increased prices for train tickets,” the unions charge.

SUD union federal secretary Bruno Poncet told the radical magazine Jacobin there was a “real will from the state to break the SNCF monopoly and allow the private sector into the system.”

They also suspect Mr Macron intends to prepare SNCF for eventual privatisation, which the government denies.

A public letter in France’s l’Humanite newspaper signed by dozens of signatories, including French Communist Party leader Pierre Laurent, expressed “total support” for the strikes, whose victory was “essential for public services, for balanced territorial planning and to meet the environmental and energy challenges of the 21st century.

“The Macron government targets the status of rail workers in order to challenge all labour status and all social gains in the private as well as the public sector,” it charged.

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