French unions kick off huge rail strike in test for Macron

A Syrian man waves to Turkish soldiers securing the streets of the northwestern city of Afrin Syria during a Turkish government-organised media tour into northern Syria Saturday

And with stoppages planned two days out of five until June 28, weeks of disruption lie ahead for France's 4.5 million daily train passengers.

The walkout - which started on Monday evening and is to last through Wednesday morning - is also reducing train traffic on the Eurostar to Britain and trains to Germany. High-speed Thalys trains towards Belgium and the Netherlands were operating nearly as normal, but there were no services towards Switzerland, Spain or Italy. At Gare du Nord, Paris's busiest station, platforms were so crowded that some commuters fell on to the tracks.

"The government will stand firm", Borne said.

I view there could additionally be concerns among train personnel. Some people felt unwell, women were crying.

Train services have been severely disrupted, with around 87% of high-speed trains and 80% of regional services canceled Tuesday, according to SNCF, France's state-owned rail company.

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Macron eyed the reforms to make France more competitive and his plans were being compared with former United Kingdom prime minister Margaret Thatcher's showdown with the coal unions of Britain in the 1980s.

- About 48 percent of rail workers and other SNCF staff were expected to participate in Tuesday's strike, according to SNCF management. It was, however, "committed to coordination and dialogue with the trade unions", she said. "I respect the strikers because going on strike is a constitutional right. We lose money when we are on strike", Grasa added. Roughly half of RER commuter trains to Paris are running.

The police charged the crowd and ordered the demonstration dispersed.

The actions are expected to mark the most significant wave of industrial action since Macron was elected in May 2017. Macron has made reforming France's economy a central plank of his presidency.

The protesting unions in France believe Macron's ideas would neither resolve SNCF's debt issue nor cure the railway's problems but would hurt the railways.

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Air France workers also walked out Tuesday in a separate and continuing dispute over pay, leading to the cancellation of around 25% of flights.

Students also blocked campuses to protest plans to allow selection in state universities, while garbage collectors are on strike to protest what they say are worsening working conditions.

The government has painted the rail workers as enjoying outdated privileges, a notion the unions strongly reject.

The "cheminot" status effectively guarantees jobs for life and other benefits, in keeping with the image of France's railways as an essential pillar of the country's infrastructure and its public services.

"We're striking for several reasons, but at the top of the list is the government wanting to open up the service to competition", the spokesman for rail union Sud Rail, Eric Santinelli, told CNN.

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