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November 19, 2019

French workers’ strikes put on test Emmanuel Macron’s reforms

strikers workersFrench President Emmanuel Macron has felt the taste of the strikes and protests, which he will meet in the coming months, as his economic reforms are facing the resistance of deeply affected state sector employees in France. Many schools were closed, less than half of the country’s trains were moving, some flights were canceled and trade unions announced stopping work in some power stations. The railway workers, who held a protest in Paris against Macron’s plan to deprive their privileges, merged with state officials striking for pay and working conditions.

The excitement marks the beginning of planned strikes and stops work in the coming months. The railway employees plan to strike two days per week from April to the end of June.

Strikes test Macron’s nerves against the backdrop of his efforts to change France’s economic model with multiple reforms. Growth in the French economy led to an acceleration in the Eurozone last year, but France is still tormented by high unemployment, and the the government says it must continue with reforming business regulations, social policy and labor rules to keep the pace of growth.

The protesters in France are dissatisfied with the President’s drive for more flexibility for the business.

The overcoming resistance by railway workers and state officials will polish Macron’s reputation as a bold, quick reformer over his predecessors. If he stops his plans, the economists warn that France may fall into spiral that will affect its economy growth prospects compared to other European countries.

With regard to the private sector, Macron has already issued decrees for more flexible labor laws and lower taxes that burden the investment. These reforms have gone smoothly compared to past attempts, mainly because the trade unions representing the private sector were too divided to mobilize people.

But civil servants and railway workers from SNCF, the state-owned railway company, are more powerful, more cohesive communities in France, who for decades have opposed attempts to remove their privileged status. The railway strikes can harm the French economy due to nearly 4 million trips every day.

The reforms in civil servants aim to achieve more flexibility in the labor market by limiting work-life, employing more temporary workers, and widening salary performance to 5.5 million civil servants.

Emmanuel Macron also wants to end the recruitment of rail workers on life-long contracts, similar to those of civil servants. The move that Macron intends to pass through a decree aims to prepare the highly indebted railway company SNCF for competition in the railway sector.

The public consultations show that so far the majority of the French citizens do not support the plans of the railway workers for long strikes. But some union leaders urge private sector employees and retirees, angry with tax hikes, to join demonstrations. If the various protests merge into widespread dissatisfaction, Macron may be isolated and forced to retreat.

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