French Railway Workers Resume Rolling Strike

Railway Workers

On the second Monday morning of May 2018, French commuters and travelers found themselves stranded and frustrated as employees of SNCF, the national railway operator, continued their rolling strike for the sixth week in a row.

The work stoppage started with an announcement by labor union leaders, who explained that the railway workers, known as cheminots, would only operate a few train lines on May 14. The strike action seeks to underscore opposition to the French government's plan to disassemble the SNCF monopoly for the purpose of expanding transportation options and to eliminate the job guarantees previously extended to cheminots.

In France, getting hired at the SNCF usually means being hired for life; this is one of the few French institutions that still offer this social contract guarantee. The French government of President Emanuel Macron seeks to streamline personal transportation across the country by opening the sector to private bidders.

The regional train lines of France were operating at about a third of their capacity on Monday morning; the inter-city lines were hit even harder as only about a fifth were in operation. The impact of the strike was more visibly felt in Paris, where commuters crowded bus terminals, took taxis and requested Uber lines, thus crating major traffic congestions in the City of Light.

Tourism operators were concerned that the cheminots would choose to strike again on Wednesday, the day when the Europa League final match between the Marseille and Atlético Madrid football clubs will take place in Lyon. Thousands of fans are expected to travel to Lyon, many of them from Spain and other parts of Europe for the match. A railway strike on this day could prove chaotic not just for football fans but also for the Macron government since news media crews from around the world will be in France to cover the match.

Privatization of state institutions such as Air France and France Telecom has been heavily criticized by both liberal and conservative segments of the population; for this reason, the SNCF strikes have received considerable attention from various political factions. President Macron is a major proponent of privatizing former French monopolies; however, his proposals would still leave shareholder ownership mostly in the hands of the government.

Cheminot union leaders are vowing to continue their strikes at a pace of two days per week until June, but they do not want to advance their stoppage plans too far in advance so that the impact of the strike action is not diluted.

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