SNCF strike disrupts travel in France

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French strike affects Swiss rail connections

The beginning of the strikes, named "Black Tuesday", will disrupt France's 4.5 million train passengers, as nearly half of all train staff and 75 percent of drivers intend to participate in the walkout.

SNCF said in a statement on Sunday that only 15 per cent of high-speed trains and 25 per cent of regional trains would be running tomorrow and April 4 due to the strike.

- One in every three trains to Germany was to operate and three-quarters of Eurostar trains to London and Brussels will run. Rail employees have been called upon to stop work on two out of five days every week until June 30.

The move is aimed at protesting against Macron's plan to transform the national SNCF - which is in massive debt - into a profit-maker ahead of the European Union opening up state railways to competition from 2023. Only one in eight long-distance trains ran on Tuesday, and train connections to Switzerland, Spain and Italy were completely cancelled.

The industrial action is a major test, too, of how much influence France's once fearsome unions - whose membership has plunged to just 11 percent - still carry. Concerned that a major portion of its transportation system is not going to operate, the government is warning these union members not to interfere with strikebreakers.

SNCF management is also disputing the validity of the strike notice that the CGT, UNSA and CFDT unions, which represent railroad workers, have given.

The last French president to square off against rail unions over workers' benefits came off worst. Unions say Macron is paving the way for privatization.

"The government will stand firm", Borne said.

For his part, the leader of the General Labor Confederation, Philippe Martinez, asserted workers "are not on strike for pleasure, but because they have been forced to do so".

Macron wants to transform SNCF, which adds $3.69 billion (3 billion euros) of debt a year to a pile now running at $57.80 billion (47 billion euros), into a profit-maker.

What remains unclear is whether Macron might offer further concessions to get the unions to back down before the strikes bite.

The French president wants to phase out lucrative SNCF contracts, which give workers a job-for-life guarantee, automatic annual pay rises, a generous early retirement policy, and free rail tickets for relatives.

Clémentine Autain, representing France Unbowed, said at the same media event: "This is a trial of strength between the unions and the government".

The government has sought to ease tensions with assurances that the arrival of foreign competition on French rail tracks, pencilled in for gradual rollout from 2020, can be delayed.

The rail strikes are being seen as the biggest challenge yet to Macron's sweeping plans to liberalise the French economy and make it more competitive, earning comparisons to Margaret Thatcher's 1984 showdown with Britain's coal miners.

Union chief Emmanuel Grondein said the strike was necessary and had a wider objective.

Some energy sector workers walked out today in protest against the planned liberalisation of the power sector, but there was little impact on power output. This is in addition to strikes in recent weeks by pensioners, students, and public sector workers.

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