France readies for massive transportation strike on Thursday

Clay Curtis
December 5, 2019

The Eiffel Tower is warning tourists to delay a visit to the famous monument because the strike will disrupt access on Thursday.

The SNCF railway said about nine out of 10 high-speed trains are cancelled, as are about 30 per cent of Air France's domestic flights.

In the biggest industrial action France has seen for decades workers are walking out over president Emmanuel Macron's plans to streamline the country's 42 state pension systems.

Meanwhile, the French Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed a fifth of flights will be cancelled throughout the country on Thursday.

Some travelers complained about the disruptions, while some showed support for the striking workers.

"I arrived at the airport this morning and I had no idea about the strike happening, and I was waiting for two hours in the airport for the train to arrive and it didn't arrive", said Ian Crossen, from NY. "I've spent money I didn't need to, apparently".

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Subway stations across Paris were shuttered, complicating traffic - and prompting many commuters to use shared bikes or electric scooters instead.

Parents scrambled to organise daycare as teachers walked off the job or were unable to get to work, and many employees were working from home or forced to take the day off as trains, metros and buses were cancelled. Police warned Wednesday of possible violence and damage, and ordered all businesses, cafes, and restaurants along the way to close.

Authorities also issued a ban on protests on the Champs-Elysees avenue, around the presidential palace, parliament and Notre Dame cathedral.

The transportation minister said he will meet with unions on Thursday to try to defuse tensions. And they see this fight as crucial to saving France's social safety net. Everyone who relies on public transport to get to work will pay the price, he said. France now has a system of dozens of different schemes.

The strikes will be a major test of whether Macron, a former investment banker who came to power on the back of a promise to transform France, has the political strength to push through one of his key campaign pledges.

But unions say the changes would effectively require millions of private-sector workers to work beyond the legal retirement age of 62 if they want to receive the full pension they have been promised.

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