By Aishwarya Rai, International News Editor
A series of rail strikes began on Monday, April 2 in France, in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s labor reform. The strikes, what are now referred to as “black tuesday,” are scheduled to continue for three months and affect two out of every five days, according to the BBC. Although the strikes are being led by staff at the state railway SNCF, the energy and waste collection sectors are also affected. Seventeen more of the two-day strikes are expected, the next being April 8-9.
The strikes are due to the SNCF staff’s concerns that the plans to overhaul the SNCF (which is heavily indebted by 45 billion euros, or $56 billion) will lead to its privatization. Prime Minister Éduoard Phillippe denied this statement. He added, however, that “if the strikers are to respected, the millions of French people who want to go to work, because they have no choice, because they want to go to work, must also be respected.” Unions, however, want the “strongest possible” strike to convey their worries about the reforms which are set to introduce competition, and work towards higher wages and more secured jobs. The strike is open to other sectors too, as labor law reforms are undergoing broader changes under Macron’s administration.
According to the BBC, all four main rail unions are on strike. Approximately 77% of SNCF drivers and 34% of the overall staff are believed to be on strike. Other modes of transport have been affected by these rail strikes too: buses have been overcrowded and some stations are crammed, while others are completely empty.
Adding to Black Tuesday’s events, Air France workers also participated in the “walk out” in a separate dispute for higher pay: their unions are asking for an increase of 6% but the airline is only offering 1%. The company had to cancel approximately 25% of its flights as a result. However, passengers travelling on strike days can switch their flights for alternative dates with no penalty. According to The Independent, air-traffic controllers based in the Marseille area have also joined in the strike, protesting against proposals for more flexible rostering.
On Friday, April 6, French rail workers met with government officials for six hours. According to French newspaper The Local, the rail workers exited the meeting furious, one individual stating that the talks were “painful and useless,” adding that “the government doesn’t have anything to offer and is not solving any problems. In the event that the government does harden its stance on the reforms, unions are prepared to strengthen their strikes, showing that neither party intends to back down.
Part of the discussion was based on the SNCF’s $56 billion debt. According to The Local, the government said that it was not against paying some of the debt; however, something needs to be given up in return.
Certain polls show that 57% of the French people believe the strike is ‘unjustified’. The government and the unions are scheduled to meet again to discuss railway competition and rail workers social rights.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 10th print edition.
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