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Bull-headed French union boss vows to persist with crippling strike

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A commuter (R) walks past a closed metro line at the Chatelet subway station during the 19th day of a strike by French state railway company SNCF and Paris’ public transports operator RATP employees, in Paris, France, on December 23, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

The hard-line leader of a French trade union has vowed to persist with a transport strike that has entered its 23rd day, marking the longest-lasting such industrial action in the country in three decades.

The walkout, against plans by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to merge 42 existing pension schemes into a single one, started on December 5 and has marred Christmas and New Year celebrations in France already.

On Friday, Philippe Martinez, the secretary general of the CGT union that has orchestrated the strike, said, “It’s a strong movement and still supported by public opinion.”

During his visit to picketing workers at a bus depot, Martinez slammed Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has said he wants no confrontation with the strikers, saying Philippe was not true to his words.

“The government shows how agitated it is with this kind of conception of social dialog,” Martinez said, in an apparent reference to the strike.

The walkout is the longest-lasting since the 1980s, when a transport strike lasted for 28 days in France — also through Christmas — in 1986 and early 1987.

In 1995, a 22-day strike forced the then-government of the late president Jacques Chirac to abandon his planned pension reforms. The CGT hopes to repeat that scenario.

The current strike was still paralyzing transport in Paris on Friday, with only two driverless metro lines working normally and five lines completely closed.

According to local authorities, union activists blocked four depots of Paris buses — which had largely kept running in the strikes though with reduced services — early Friday before being dispersed by police.

The government and unions are set to resume talks on January 7.

The unions are asking that the government drop the pension reform plan, which they say would scrap early retirement benefits for some public employees, including transport workers.

The government says the plan is needed to create a fairer system.

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