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article imageUnion boss defiant on France's longest strike in decades

By Stuart WILLIAMS (AFP)     Dec 27, 2019 in World

The boss of a hardline French trade union on Friday vowed to press on with a strike that has crippled transport in Paris for the past three weeks and is now the longest-lasting such action since the 1980s.

The strike against pension reforms championed by President Emmanuel Macron began on December 5 and has cast a long shadow over celebrations in France for Christmas and the New Year.

Now on day 23, the union stoppage is longer than the notorious 22-day strike of the winter of 1995 under late president Jacques Chirac against welfare cutbacks which forced the then government into a U-turn.

The longest transport strike in France lasted for 28 days, also over Christmas, in 1986 and early 1987.

Protesters take part in a demonstration near Gare de l'Est train station in Paris on December 2...
Protesters take part in a demonstration near Gare de l'Est train station in Paris on December 26
STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN, AFP/File

"It's a strong movement and still supported by public opinion," said Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the CGT union as he visited picketing workers at a bus depot.

He lashed out at Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has said he wants no confrontation with the strikers, accusing him of not being true to his word.

"The government shows how agitated it is with this kind of conception of social dialogue," said Martinez.

- No end in sight -

Philippe Martinez is pictured during a demonstration against pension reform on December 10
Philippe Martinez is pictured during a demonstration against pension reform on December 10
Bertrand GUAY, AFP/File

The strike was still paralysing transport in Paris on Friday, day the French capital should be crammed with shoppers seeking post-Christmas bargains or preparing for the New Year.

There appears to be no end in sight to the current movement with talks between the government and unions only set to resume on January 7.

Just two two driverless metro lines were working normally Friday and five lines were completely shut down. National rail operator SNCF said six out of every 10 high-speed TGV trains were running.

Train services have been slashed because of the strike in France
Train services have been slashed because of the strike in France
STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN, AFP/File

Union activists also blocked four depots of Paris buses -- which have largely kept running in the strikes with a much reduced service -- early Friday before being dispersed peacefully by Paris police, the local authorities said.

The unions are demanding that the government drops a plan to merge 42 existing pension schemes into a single, points-based system.

The overhaul would see workers in certain sectors -- including the railways -- lose early retirement benefits.

The government says the pension overhaul is needed to create a fairer system.

But workers object to the inclusion of a so-called pivot age of 64 until which people would have to work to earn a full pension -- two years beyond the official retirement age.

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