French strikes over Macron reforms turn ugly

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More than 140 demos are planned today as teachers, rail and hospital staff, pilots and air control workers join the first major movement against President Macron's labour market reforms.

Public servants are angry over pay that has not kept up with inflation, while unions accuse Macron of wanting to take a sledgehammer to the public sector.

Flights out of Paris Charles-de-Gaulle, Orly and Beauvais have been cut by a third while Air France has said it is managing to fly 60% of its short-haul flights, 75% of medium-distance and all long-distance flights.

A national strike by French workers on Thursday (March 22) is set to disrupt flights and public transport around the country.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has invited French President Emmanuel Macron to address Congress when he visits Washington in April, Ryan's office said on Wednesday.

"The trade union said the government is not willing to negotiate and thus takes the responsibility of an intensive and long-duration conflicto", declared recently Laurent Brun, of the CGT, after meeting with his colleagues of Unsa, CFDT and SUD-rail, among the main organizations.

But only 13% of central government workers walked off the job, down marginally from an October strike, the government said, in a sign that unions may still be struggling to raise the street against the president.

Nirman Djeacoumaran, who lives in the Paris suburbs, told the AP there was just one train per hour on his train line.

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Unions said one in four primary schools were on strike, while electricity generation dropped by over three gigawatts (GW), the equivalent of three nuclear reactors, as gas and electricity sector workers joined the strike.

While Thursday's strikes are likely to inconvenience many travelers, Macron was elected on a mandate of reforming the country's famously rigid labor laws. After his election promises of better recognition and remuneration for public sector staff, there has been fury among state workers that Macron has gone back on his word and in fact seeks to slash budgets, rely more on contract workers, introduce merit-based pay and make voluntary redundancies.

But the government says it will stand by its plans with polls showing the majority of voters back the reforms.

He said he was also protesting against tax hikes on pensions.

That has led the government, which overhauled labour laws previous year and is also crafting a series of other sensitive reforms including of unemployment insurance, to say it will stand by its plans, while keeping a close eye on protests.

Railway workers are anxious by government plans to scrap job-for-life guarantees and automatic annual pay rises.

FSU union official Bernadette Groison said the reforms would herald "the end of the social model we know today, with public services that have been broken apart".

This Thursday's mobilization is considered the prelude of what will happen from April to June: the SNCF summoned a two-day strike of every five during those three months, meaning 36 days of paralization of train services.

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