Macron Faces First Major Strike as Unions Oppose Planned Reforms

The list now also includes Angelo Frebault, who until las week was the spokesman of the union movement that held a general strike to force the government to shelve its plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

Two of the four unions representing rail workers have told members to join the day of public sector protests on Thursday, when a third of flights into Paris-area airports are expected to be cancelled due to air traffic strikes.

Planes, schools, trains and other transport services across France were seriously disrupted on Thursday as unions set up dozens of street protests all over the country.

The numbers were smaller than in previous demonstrations against Macron's labour reforms as well as the anti labour reform demos that took place under his predecessor François Hollande.

But France's powerful public sector, which employs more than five million people, is putting its foot down against the next stage: proposals to cut 120,000 public-sector jobs, hire more contract workers and slash budgets across the board.

France's centrist president, who has been in power for almost a year, has so far avoided large strikes and trade union action, managing to easily push through an overhaul of labour laws in the autumn despite limited street marches. This includes a 30 per cent reduction in flights at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, as well as Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes and Toulouse. The Paris Metro is running normally, but suburban trains were affected by the strike.

At national level there was a mobilization of some 300 to 500 thousand demonstrators, according to different counts, while in Paris were reported figures between 47 and 65 thousandm with two marches ending in the emblematic square of La Bastille.

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President Emmanuel Macron called the killing of three people in southern France on Friday and act of "Islamist terrorism", but said security services were still checking whether the Islamic State group was really behind the attack as it claims.

Air France is also facing a separate strike by staff on Friday (March 23) but added: "It remains too early to ascertain the effects this strike might have on our flights".

Macron's critics also oppose plans to use presidential decrees to pass the rail reforms, a bid to avoid lengthy parliamentary debate which they say is undemocratic.

While Thursday's strikes are likely to inconvenience many travelers, Macron was elected on a mandate of reforming the country's famously rigid labor laws.

What it means: France is changing. "What this government is doing is simply not OK", said 65-year old pensioner Françoise Rauch, a former SNCF rail operator who said he was also protesting tax hikes on pensions.

Macron has so far been spared the scale of industrial action seen under his Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande, but tensions have been growing.

Over half of French voters support the strike, but 75 per cent think Macron is probably going to go ahead with the reforms anyway.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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