A Thatcher moment? France's Macron squares off with rail unions

From Reuters - March 14, 2018

PARIS (Reuters) - The last time a French president squared off against rail unions over workers benefits it ended badly. The strikes of 1995 paralyzed Paris and forced prime minister Alain Juppe to pull the reforms, a defeat from which he failed to recover.

Emmanuel Macron is undeterred.

On Wednesday his government endorsed a bill to fast-track through parliament the biggest shake-up of Frances debt-ridden railways since they were nationalized in 1930s.

The former investment bankers penchant for reform-by-decree after talkshe adopted the same approach over labor reforms last summerhas angered labor unions, who will decide on Thursday if they will resort to strikes.

Its like putting a pistol to our heads and saying: Lets talk, Philippe Martinez, leader of the CGT union, said.

Elected on a promise to transform France and backed by a commanding majority in parliament, Macron has tackled at a relentless pace issues long considered sacred cows: protective labor laws, the bloated public sector, schools and now the state-run SNCF railways.

French unions are weaker and more divided than in 1995 and public support for strikes is less ardent than it once was.

And while the unions have threatened action over his plans to transform the SNCF into a profit-maker and prepare it for foreign competition in 2020, Macron has the public on his side.

One recent poll showed two in every three French people backed contracts for rail workers that would no longer guarantee a job for life and early retirement.



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