French rail strike continues as unions meet minister
Traffic on France’s rail network improved on Thursday, according to the SNCF rail company, although the railworkers’ strike continued for a second day. Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier is meeting unions to try to bring the conflict to an end.
Paris and the surrounding region, where three million passengers take the train every day, remained the worst-hit area, the SNCF said on Thursday, but it claimed that more trains were running throughout the country than on the first day of the strike.
According to the SNCF:
- Half of TGV high-speed trains between the north and the Atlantic coast were running;
- Sixty per cent of trains in eastern France were running;
- Eurostar and trains to Germany were running normally;
- A third of trains to Spain were running;
- Three-quarters of Thalys to Belgium and Holland were running;
- Only one-third of RER trains linking Paris to the suburbs and other mainline services were running in the Ile de France region, although the metro is unaffected by the strike.
Mass meetings of strikers on Wednesday evening voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike for another 24 hours, unions said.
Cuvillier met unions on Wednesday evening, bringing forward a meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon, and was to see them again on Thursday morning with an “orientation document”.
Didier Garrel, the leader of the largest union, the CGT, said the meeting had been a “constructive exchange”, but found that the minister was “trapped between the railworkers’ demand and the demands of Bercy (the finance ministry]”.
A smaller union, the Unsa, which did not support the current strike, is to call for another stoppage on 17 June if the negotiations do not lead to agreement.
The unions claim that a proposed law that will merge the two rail companies, the SNCF and RFF, does not go far enough and believe that plans to reduce the network’s debts will affect their members’ conditions.
They also fear plans to open it up to competition will mean privatisation and a decline in services.
In every European country where liberalisation has taken place, it has “led to a decline in quality and safety and an explosion of ticket prices”.
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