• France's news in English
 

Tensions mount as French rail strike goes on

Published: 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)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
How a dead body lead to French Neighbours' Day
Families get together in the northern suburbs of Paris on Neighbour's Day. Photo: AFP

How a dead body lead to French Neighbours' Day

Friday marks Neighbours's Day (Fête des Voisins), a celebration that has spread across the world after it was created in France. Find out how the discovery of a dead woman's body prompted the movement, and how you're expected to take part. READ  

Ten Tips - Pickpockets
How to avoid the Paris Metro pickpockets
Thieves love "the overcrowded Paris Metro, where pushing, shoving, stumbling and chaos of every variety are always just around the corner." Photo: Thomas Ulrich

How to avoid the Paris Metro pickpockets

You might be a seasoned pro on the Paris Metro, or just visiting for a few days. Either way, you will need to watch out for ingenious pickpockets working the French capital’s underground rail network. Here's a guide on how to avoid being robbed. READ  

Crime in Paris
How Eiffel Tower thieves earned €4,000 a day each
Crowds regularly swarm beneath the Eiffel Tower. Photo: Krzysztof Belczyński/Flickr

How Eiffel Tower thieves earned €4,000 a day each

Paris police busted a pickpocket gang this week, who "earned" up to €4,000 a day each in peak season by preying on tourists at the Eiffel Tower. But how exactly were they pinching your belongings? Here's a closer look. READ  

VIDEO: Top five street scams to avoid in Paris
Here are five street scams everyone should know about in Paris. Photo: Screengrab/YouTube

VIDEO: Top five street scams to avoid in Paris

As ten members of the Eiffel Tower gang of pickpockets are caught, we take a look at five well-known street scams that tourists and visitors to Paris regularly fall victim to. READ  

Dining in Paris
Paris chefs embrace rooftop gardens
Frame Brasserie sous-chef Ogier Pottiez picks plants the rooftop of the Pullman Eiffel Tower hotel in Paris. Photo: AFP

Paris chefs embrace rooftop gardens

Chefs in Paris are taking the concept of "eating locally" to heart, with rooftop gardens sprouting up around the French capital. And they say the concept is here to stay. READ  

National Front demands EU referendum in France
Should the French also have a referendum on their membership in the EU? Photo: AFP

National Front demands EU referendum in France

David Cameron's pledge to hold an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU has been backed by France's far right National Front party, which wants the same in France, where views of the EU have soured over the years. READ  

Frenchwoman jailed for torturing boyfriend
A Frenchwoman has been jailed for torturing her boyfriend. Photo: AFP

Frenchwoman jailed for torturing boyfriend

A Frenchwoman who kept her boyfriend as a "domestic slave", forcing him to ingest sponges and window cleaner, was Thursday sentenced to three years in prison. READ  

Paris finally set to dump scourge of love locks
A couple take a selfie on the Pont des Arts in front of all the love locks. Photo: AFP

Paris finally set to dump scourge of love locks

The famous Pont des Arts will soon be free from the hundreds of thousands of love locks that hang from its railings after Paris confirmed it had finally had enough of the tradition. READ  

Cameron in Paris
Cameron tells EU: 'Status quo not good enough'
Cameron and Hollande held talks in Paris over the future of the EU on Thursday night. Photo: AFP

Cameron tells EU: 'Status quo not good enough'

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has urged EU leaders to be "flexible and imaginative" when it comes to reforming the European Union in order to make the 28-nation bloc more successful and competitive. READ  

Paris police bust Eiffel Tower pickpocket ring
Police in front of the Eiffel Tower. Photo: AFP

Paris police bust Eiffel Tower pickpocket ring

Police in the French capital arrested ten people suspected of being in a pickpocketing gang that targeted tourists at the Eiffel Tower, where they would earn up to €4,000 a day. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Paris signals the end of the love lock
International
VIDEO: Top five street scams to avoid in Paris
What's on in France: Ten things to do in June
Study: Over 40 percent of the French don't shower every day
Opinion: Can France's new mega university rival the best?
'We need to talk about Europe... and what it has brought the UK'
National
Look what you can buy in France for the price of a London flat
France honours four French Resistance heros
Culture
The French film that cinemas are too scared to show
Features
How many of these stunning Paris streets have YOU walked down?
National
British woman bites off French reveller's thumb
National
200 years on, why is Waterloo still taboo for the French?
Features
Take a tour of the best Metro stations that Paris has to offer
National
Soon there'll be a fixed fare for a taxi ride from the airport into Paris
National
Drug dealers in Marseille are offering customers loyalty cards
Soon there'll be no minimum for using your bank card in France
Features
Fancy starting a business and living in Paris? There's help available
National
Are you fearing a Brexit? Maybe it's time to become a French citizen
How hard-up French are tempted by money to take migrants to the UK
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: 9 questions every expat should ask
Education
More English words (including 'le selfie') sneak into French
Charlie Hebdo to give €4.3m to attack victims
National
French Protestants bless gay marriage
Opinion
Why elitism is dragging France down
Features
RECIPE: How to make your own picnic-perfect meringues
Business & Money
French tax declaration deadline: Key things to remember
VIDEO: Can YOU pronounce the trickiest word in French?
France tops holiday wish list for children
National
Study: Women do bulk of housework in France
National
VIDEO: Police use force on Calais migrants
National
This man is France's Instagram king. But who else makes the top list?
Features
Free museum entry, film festivals, sports... see What's On this in May
Culture
Behind the curtain: A closer look at the Cannes Film Festival
National
It's a boy! Baby born on Air France flight to Paris
Features
Love-locked: Whatever happened to Paris's beautiful bridges?
'Forget the UK election, expats should be able to vote in France'
Thomas Piketty backs Miliband for Britain but not Hollande for France
Gallery
The most spectacular sunset pictures from around France
National
France tells migrants in Calais to 'forget the UK and stay here'
Society
VIDEO: See what's beneath the surface of the French Riviera
National
French teen suicide after sex video web bullying
France launches bid to buy Europe's biggest and most spectacular dune
Double standards? French Muslim barred from class over long skirt
National
France goes on the defensive after UN experts say 'racism is trivialised'
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