Millions of French commuters suffered a second consecutive day of travel chaos on Wednesday as striking rail workers locked horns with President Emmanuel Macron’s government in a dispute over reforming the state-owned SNCF railways, Reuters reports.
Commuters in and around Paris pushed their way onto the few trains running during the rush-hour while many platforms in the French capital’s busiest stations lay empty.
SNCF data at midday showed the number of drivers on strike fell slightly on Wednesday, though more signalmen and conductors had walked out than a day earlier. Across the company, including administrative and sales staff, the participation rate dipped.
Macron wants to transform the heavily indebted rail company, which loses 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) each year, into a profit-making public service able to withstand foreign competition when its monopoly ends in 2020 in line with European Union rules.
Unions reject plans to end rail workers’ special privileges, including job-for-life guarantees and early retirement, and complain the government is paving the way for privatizing the SNCF.
Macron, a former investment banker, has set a summer deadline for the overhaul to be completed.
“I don’t understand the strike. Some say we want to break up public services and it’s simply wrong,” Julien Denormandie, a junior minister in Macron’s government, told BFM TV.
In taking on the rail unions, Macron is treading where past presidents have either failed or steered clear, determined to cement his image as a fearless and indefatigable modernizer of the French economy.
The battle’s outcome could define Macron’s presidency with trade unions, already badly bruised by his success in liberalising labour regulations last autumn, also needing to score a win.