• France edition
 
Rail strike
Tensions mount as French rail strike goes on
The misery for commuters goes on as the French rail strike enters its seventh day. Photo: AFP

Tensions mount as French rail strike goes on

Published: 17 Jun 2014 14:42 GMT+02:00
Updated: 17 Jun 2014 14:42 GMT+02:00

LATEST: 

  • SNCF report 'improvement' in rail traffic on Tuesday
  • Controversial rail reform goes before parliament
  • Three out of four French people are against the strike, a new poll says
  • Strikers protest outside Assembly and block tracks at Montparnasse station
  • Strikers vote to continue their action into Wednesday - the eighth consecutive day

Tensions rose in France on Tuesday as the longest rail strike in years rolled on for a second week and lawmakers debated a contentious debt-cutting reform plan at the heart of the crippling walkout.

On Tuesday unions voted to extend their action for a further 24-hours until Wednesday evening just as lawmakers, most of whom support the bill, began looking at the proposals in the National Assembly.

As MPs discussed the reform inside the parliament, outside there were violent scenes when riot police and rail union workers briefly clashed. Reporters on the scene reported that flares and bottles were hurled in the direction of riot cops, who protected the entrance to the parliament, as tweeted by @julien_langlet at the scene.

Other reports said strikers had thrown flares onto tracks at Montparnasse station in an attempt to block trains.

In the afternoon, up to 300 strikers forced their way into the office of public television France 3 in the eastern city of Lyon, demanding a live debate with Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier, but later left without getting their request met.

In the southern port city of Marseille, meanwhile, their peers took direct action by addressing passengers in the railway station's main hall.

"There is a real rising anger at the way we have been singled out for blame" by the government, said Philippe Goalard, a rail worker since 1995.

"Perhaps we haven't communicated enough... and in this second week of the strike we need to explain more.

"There was some better news for commuters and travellers on Tuesday with France's rail operator SNCF forecasting a "notable improvement" in the number of trains running.

While TGV trains continue to be affected with six out of ten trains running on the North and West Coast main lines and four out of ten on the main south-east axis, in Paris things appeared to be improving, especially on the notorious RER B that serves the airports.

SNCF reported that there would be one train every ten minutes running from Gare du Nord on Tuesday. RER lines C, D and E will also be affected although RER A has been spared any disruption.

International lines to Spain, Italy and Switzerland will once again be disrupted, but Eurostar links to London and Thalys lines to Brussels and Amsterdam were operating as normal.

SNCF reiterated their call for the public not to travel by train unless it was absolutely necessary. For more information on the trains that are running CLICK HERE.

The strike has been prompted by a reform aimed at tackling the rail sector's soaring debt, which stands at more than €40 billion and is set to almost double by 2025 if nothing changes.

It looks to cut costs by bringing together the SNCF train operator and RFF railway network and to eventually open up parts of the service to competition.

Some unions signed up to the reforms after obtaining promises from the government. But the CGT and Sud-Rail unions rejected the accord saying the plans will lead to job losses without reducing the debt.

Hours before the bill was due to go before parliament Transport Secretary Frédéric Cuvillier told French radio that "he didn't understand the arguments put forward by the strikers and that they had nothing to do with the reform.

"The law will pass, it will be voted through," Cuvillier said.

The great French rail strike: What is all the fuss about?

The two unions CGT and Sud-Rail extended their action into a seventh day after talks with management from SNCF broke down. 

The secretary general of the hard-line CGT union, Gilbert Garrel, dismissed a meeting with management on Monday - the first since the strike began last Tuesday evening - as a "provocation".

Garrel said the head of the SNCF rail operator, Guillaume Pepy, had "closed the door" on the strikers "by saying that our demands were off the agenda".

The talks on Monday focused on a number of issues including salaries, working hours and hiring, but did not touch on the reform plans, both the SNCF and CGT said.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls vowed the government would not back down despite the protest, calling the strike "useless and irresponsible".

"We don't see how it (the strike) makes sense when talks are continuing and the government's doors remain open," Valls told France Info radio.

SNCF chief Pepy said the strike had already cost €80 million ($108 million) in lost revenues and compensation payouts.

On Monday, the SNCF was forced to implement costly special measures - including bringing in thousands of extra workers - to ensure that high school students were given priority places as they headed to sit their final exams.

The strike has been the biggest industrial action since Hollande's government took office two years ago, but it seems the public have had enough.

An opinion poll published in the Parisien newspaper on Tuesday revealed that three out of four people were against the strike.

The poll also showed that only one in three French understood the reasons behind the strike.

Exasperation mounted with five organisations representing rail commuters taking steps to fuse into a single, nationwide entity and demanding an immediate end to the strike.

"The absence of transport at a time when young people are taking (final) exams is unacceptable," the newly baptised National Coordination of Rail Commuters (CNUT) said.

'We're pissed off!' French anger grows over strike

Don't miss stories about France, join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French language myths
Sacré bleu! Do the French really say that?

Sacré bleu! Do the French really say that?

Do the French really say "sacré blue!" or "zut alors" when they want to curse? Or is it just a myth Anglos and their media have engineered? And if they don't use them then what do the French really say when they want to swear? READ  

Love affair for French and German leaders (on TV)
Can you imagine a real-life romance between Merkel and Hollande? Photo: AFP

Love affair for French and German leaders (on TV)

France's president and Germany's chancellor are carrying on a passionate affair, or at least that's the story line of a new German TV show. If you find the idea a bit ridiculous, there's a few critics that think so too. READ  

Woman killed by TGV train as she chases dog
Photo: Marsupilami92/Flickr

Woman killed by TGV train as she chases dog

A woman was struck and killed by a high-speed TGV train in France this week when she ran out onto the tracks to try to catch her escaped dog. It's the latest in a series of tragic accidents that have seen people killed by the trains. READ  

Julie Gayet wins privacy suit against Closer
Actress Julie Gayet, who had an affair with Hollande, won her privacy suit against Closer magazine on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Julie Gayet wins privacy suit against Closer

A French court has fined two tabloid magazine executives and a photographer over a photo of Julie Gayet, who became the subject of media hounding after her affair when President François Hollande was revealed in January. READ  

Valls vs Blair
Is Manuel Valls really a French Tony Blair?
Spot the difference. Or maybe there isn't any between Manuel Valls and Tony Blair? Photo: AFP

Is Manuel Valls really a French Tony Blair?

Is the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls really a Gallic Tony Blair? With the help of a political expert we taker a closer look to see if the oft-made comparison is fair or false. READ  

Trierweiler's new book 'won't spare' Hollande
Valerie Trierweiler has a potentially brutal book coming out on her time with President François Hollande. Photo: AFP

Trierweiler's new book 'won't spare' Hollande

A potentially explosive new memoir is due out this week from Valerie Trierwieler, France's ex-"first lady" who was dumped by the president for his mistress. The book apparently does little to "spare" François Hollande. READ  

France vows to get tough on job seekers
France orders crackdown on job seekers after it emerged tens of thousands of positions have been left unfilled. Photo:AFP

France vows to get tough on job seekers

The French labour minister has ordered a crackdown to root out those abusing unemployment benefits, after it emerged that hundreds of thousands of available jobs remain unfilled in France. READ  

Sarkozy's big return: Carla Bruni 'says non!'
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy does not want her husband to return to politics, according to reports. Photo: AFP

Sarkozy's big return: Carla Bruni 'says non!'

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy faces a few obstacles before he can fulfill his dream of becoming head of state once again - not least his numerous legal tangles. But it appears the biggest hurdle of all could be his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. READ  

Votes for expats: Plan to end UK's 15-year rule
Brits may soon get the right vote in the UK for the rest of their lives. Photo: Hagwall/Flickr

Votes for expats: Plan to end UK's 15-year rule

The Conservative party in the UK has made a bid to woo expat voters by pledging to end the controversial “15-year rule” that prevents millions of Brits abroad from being able to vote. READ  

Most French admit they 'don't know about wine'
Most French people know nothing about wine, a new survey has revealed. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

Most French admit they 'don't know about wine'

It may be the country’s most famous product but more than two thirds of French people admit they know nothing about wine, according to a new poll. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Ten dos and don'ts for keeping your French in-laws happy
National
Unemployment: How does France compare to Europe?
International
Are all the talented professionals really leaving France?
National
La France profonde: Is it a rural idyll or a backwater hell?
Travel
Check out the four new attractions coming to Paris this autumn
Gallery
The French words you can't translate literally
National
Ten things you need to know about France's economics whizzkid
International
VIDEO: Watch the top five street scams to avoid in Paris
Politics
Take a look at the bulging to-do list that awaits France's new government
Politics
Six questions for France after Hollande ousts rebels
International
Choosing schools in France: Do you go international or French?
Gallery
From kissing to bad-mouthing: Ten ways expats in France drive you mad
Culture
Ten things you need to know about the Liberation of Paris:
Travel
Watch this impressive time lapse video and you'll want to move to Paris
National
Veiled Muslim woman on a French beach prompts politician's angry rant
Travel
Forget Paris and Provence where are the least touristy areas of France?
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The battle to liberate Paris from the Nazis
National
What France means to you in just one tweet
National
15 French 'false friends' you need to watch out for
International
12 reasons to invest in Paris and seven not to
National
French hamlet 'Death to Jews' mulls name change
National
French tourist caught in Pompeii brothel romp
International
'Forget the Anglo-media's image of France, the reality is much different'
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se