French rail strikes reach milestone with 29th day of walkouts

By Associated Press Reporter

French rail strikes against government plans to reform France’s retirement system have marked a new milestone of 29 straight days of walkouts, surpassing even the lengths of strikes in the 1980s.

The nationwide walkouts against the government’s pension plans started on December 5.

On Thursday, they surpassed a 1986-1987 rail strike in longevity, a walkout that lasted 28 days at the SNCF national rail company.

The current strikes have crippled train and metro services in Paris and across the country over the Christmas-New Year period and continue to cause severe disruptions.

Commuters at Gare Montparnasse train station in Paris
Commuters at Gare Montparnasse train station in Paris (Michel Euler/AP)

The SNCF said half of its vaunted high-speed trains were not running on Thursday.

Only two automated lines were running normally on the Paris Metro, with services patchy or non-existent across the rest of the network.

Unions are gearing up for further walkouts next week, when French schools reopen and negotiations are set to resume with the government.

In a televised New Year address on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed his commitment to the pension overhaul but urged his government to “find the path of a quick compromise” with unions.

Mr Macron stayed firm on the principles of the reform, including its most decried measure: raising the eligibility age for full pensions from 62 to 64.

A traveller on an empty platform at at Gare Montparnasse train station in Paris
A traveller on an empty platform at at Gare Montparnasse (Michel Euler/AP)

He insisted the new system will be fairer to all French workers and will be financially sustainable.

The plan aims to unite dozens of separate pension systems into one and eliminate special deals that let some French transit workers retire in their fifties.