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What the papers said 3 April 2018

rfi English, Apr 3

France faced a "Black Tuesday" of rolling Union strikes aimed at shutting down the country to protest against President Macron's plans to overhaul the public sector, and the SNCF rail operator in particular. 

The papers were all about the launch on Tuesday of three months of rolling strikes by French rail workers and civil servant unions in a wave of industrial action aimed at forcing President Emmanuel Macron to abandon sweeping reforms.

Le Parisien says it expects a chaotic Black Tuesday for France's 4.5 million train passengers battling to catch a train to work. Only one out of 8 high-speed TGV trains and one regional train out of five will be running.

The company says there will be no trains at all to Spain, Italy or Switzerland, with one quarter of Eurostar train services to London and Brussels cancelled. Only Thalys trains towards Belgium and the Netherlands are operating normally.

Le Parisien reports that at Air France, managers say one quarter of flights are cancelled as it deals with the fourth strike over pay in little over a month.

According to the publication on the opening day of the strikes, a small majority of French people support plans to overhaul at state rail operator SNCF.

In Le Parsien's mind one of the challenges facing the government is to maintain this support while explaining that the debt-ridden company needs to make major changes before EU countries open passenger rail to competition by 2020. Hence the paper's warning that the war of attrition has only begun.

Right wing le Figaro is furious that the renewable strikes are planned at a rhythm perfected to cause maximum disorganisation of the transport network. According to the newspaper while the public railway company the SNCF has always organised itself in times of strike to keep its trains working, this time the unions plotted a scenario which will render the situation of public transport unmanageable.

Le Figaro says the impact of the union’s plot will be devastating for air and railway traffic as well as for strategic sectors such as garbage collection and the energy sector, which have several strikes planned starting this week.

Libération has all you need to know about the strike. Its coverage is complete with a guide about how to beat the industrial action starting this Tuesday. But it turns its fury on the government who it says has been blackening the reputation of the company with accusations about the companies debt and fossilised status of railway workers.

According to the paper everything is exaggerated by the government, desperate to first give the SNCF a bad name before hanging it. The paper says future will tell if Macron was right in taking the risk of jumping from a plane without parachutes in an issue on which their predecessors failed woefully.

Libe says the strike is costing the company millions of euros of lost revenue on each day of the strike, adding that it is certain to worsen the debt burden of the company which stood at 14 .6 billion euros in 2017.

"Public services remain the sole wealth which people who have nothing can lay claim to" writes l'Humanité. The Communist daily says from the start it was always clear to everyone that the so-called challenges confronted by the SNCF had nothing to do either with the status of its workers, the company's debt burden or even on the company's chronic under-investment.

L'Humanité explains that this is why the ultimate battle to defend the railyway company is everyone's business. As the publication puts it, it will be together that the battle will be waged and won, in the interest of all and that of the future.

For Les Echos the standoff constitutes a real endurance test for the government and one that is likely to mark President Macron's five year term of office. This is while right-wing l'Opinion warns of the danger of allowing hardline unions to undermine the government responsibility to reform the economy.

 

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