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Tear gas, clashes: France fed up with train strike

PARIS (AP) - Even France may be getting fed up with strikes.

A week into a nationwide train strike that has tangled traffic and stranded tourists, police fired tear gas Tuesday at protesting rail workers. Two polls suggest passengers have little sympathy for the train workers' lament. Even the labor-friendly Socialist government is breaking a long-held French taboo and is openly criticizing the striking unions.

The strike has caused some of the worst disruption to the country's rail network in years - and heated up as the reform bill went to the lower house of Parliament for debate Tuesday. The bill would unite the SNCF train operator with the RFF railway network, which would pave the way to opening up railways to competition.

Workers fear the reform will mean job losses and hurt the quality of France's extensive and often-vaunted train network. The government says the reform is needed to better streamline the railway's administration, as France and other European countries gear up for full-scale railway liberalization in coming years.

With sentiment piling up against them, unions aren't backing down.

Several hundred workers staged a protest Tuesday near the National Assembly on Paris' Left Bank, waving red union flags and demanding that the bill be delayed or changed. In northern Lille, protesters briefly occupied City Hall.

The protesters blocked cars and tried to push past police to approach the parliament building, firing flares and throwing bottles. Officers responded with tear gas and batons and wrestled a few protesters to the ground. Then protesters marched onto train tracks and set off flares on the tracks at Paris' busy Montparnasse station, which links travelers with cities across western and southwestern France.

Even in a country where the right to strike is almost sacred, the Socialist leadership and their conservative opponents are losing patience.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the violence "unacceptable" and defended the reform bill in Parliament on Tuesday. A day earlier, in very unusual public criticism, Valls said "this strike is useless and irresponsible given the situation in the country."

Last week, French President François Hollande called on rail unions to bring an end to the strike, even if he has no power to stop it. The right to strike is guaranteed by the French constitution, with minor restrictions for transport workers, who must give 48-hours' notice of their intention to strike.

The strike began last Wednesday, and while only a minority of workers is taking part, it has disrupted travel on trains and commuter lines across France. About a third of trains were canceled nationwide Tuesday. The strike has not affected international lines such as the Eurostar train from Paris to London, but it has caused problems for international travelers using the commuter rail to and from Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The strike further angered the public in Week Two as it ran into the start of high school baccalaureate exams Monday. The SNCF had to reorganize its service to make sure students get priority places on packed trains and buses.

Two polls this week showed that most respondents oppose the strike and support reform of the rail system.

Matthieu Chapuis, a 27-year-old railway worker at the Montparnasse protest, sought to dispel the image of train workers as privileged public servants clinging to generous benefits.

"I work three Sundays out of four," Chapuis told The Associated Press. He said he was paid 1,600 euros a month (about $2,200) "to toil around-the-clock in three shifts," switching trains between tracks.

"On top of that, if I make a mistake, I am criminally responsible," he said. "That means that if there are dead people, I go to jail."

The government's stance is familiar to the opposition conservatives. Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon of the UMP party said in a statement that "SNCF customers are hostages of a minority of strikers who don't care about the public interest."

SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy estimated Monday that the strike had cost the company between 80 million and 100 million euros.


Michel Euler and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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gov111w June 17 2014 at 4:54 PM

Socialists breed violence... Keep your eye on any socialistic leaning leader

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4 replies
James Zucco June 17 2014 at 5:06 PM


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juststeve35 June 17 2014 at 5:15 PM

"We will succeed at protecting our brother's and sister's jobs, even if we have to take down the whole nation to do so!"

- French Railway Workers Union

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4 replies
diempostdiem June 17 2014 at 5:47 PM

What is happening in the world today is very much akin to the situation prior to WW2. Many people out of work, divisions among ethnic groups, blame being assigned to the rich, and a nazi-like group killing christians and Jews around the world.

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6 replies
Mike June 17 2014 at 7:30 PM

Careful. While the French are busy fighting among themselves, the Germans may seize the moment to march in again.

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2 replies
mjslilbabygirl Mike June 18 2014 at 1:37 AM

Racist. There is a difference between Germans and Nazis. Not all Germans are Nazis and you are stereotyping a whole race. I do NOT find this funny.

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siscosdad Mike June 18 2014 at 3:51 AM

No, they're allies. But the Muslims will.

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1 reply
jveloz9925 siscosdad June 18 2014 at 4:54 AM

They are there already

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lwilson145 June 17 2014 at 5:33 PM

Crap, just send obumer over there and he'll just tell them to go back to work and that will be that.

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irinalaw June 17 2014 at 10:50 PM

These train workers should be happy they even have a job. There are people everywhere who don't know if they'll eat today.

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Pllc15 June 17 2014 at 7:59 PM

Though not mentioned here, it didn't say how much the budget was to maintain these two rail lines. I'll wager that France's railway budget is more than their military spending.

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1 reply
k9minds4recovery Pllc15 June 17 2014 at 9:00 PM

Whay would thespend on a military when they are in NATO protected by the US?

I’m a US citizen via the US Army in ’93; former Spetsnaz GRU, former US Army Ranger (Mogadishu 1st SFOD-D, Balkans, TF88 in Iraq II) retired Colonel O6 2009 when the new CIC reinvaded Afghanistan (losing twice in Afghanistan was too much to ask). Now a partner in a risk management firm; living through the governmental collapse of a “Super Power” makes my presentations to the world’s .025%ers quite compelling.

US DOD budget is more than the next 13 countries; China, Russia, UK, France, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Brazil, Italy, South Korea, Australia and Canada. Which country is acting more like the defunct Soviet Union: US or Russia?

It does not appear that the US will evade the same fate as the Soviet Union.

Ryazan Airborne Senior Command Military Academy

“My jump buddy was a Belgian Malinois”

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2 replies
flyingfortresb17 k9minds4recovery June 17 2014 at 9:50 PM

Then I would worry about the dog.

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siscosdad k9minds4recovery June 18 2014 at 3:52 AM

France is part of NATO..They get to fight as well, not just Americans.

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TexasKitty June 17 2014 at 10:33 PM

This is what they do in France. You can be on a train, metro etc... And when the strike is called, you're not going anywhere.

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drmike15 June 17 2014 at 11:31 PM

The Great Beard himself said that only the working class can liberate the working class. Parties only live to perpetuate themselves, or to serve the interests of globalized capital. There is no left or right, there is only right and wrong, human and anti-human, just and unjust - and guess which one runs the state and controls the media? Capitalism is finished, it can't hide behind its myths of prosperity anymore - all bets are off.

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