Nationwide strikes loom in France as Macron clashes with unions

Paris (AFP) - France was Wednesday preparing for one of its biggest nationwide strikes in years with stoppages by transport workers and teachers expected to paralyse the country in an intensifying showdown between President Emmanuel Macron and unions.

Some 90 percent of high-speed trains have been axed, most of the Paris metro will be shut, hundreds of flights cancelled and the majority of schools closed in Thursday's strike over Macron's planned pension reforms.

The strike -- which is open-ended and could last several days -- has drawn comparisons between the struggle between government and unions in November-December 1995 when the country was paralysed for some three weeks.

Workers across France will have to work from home or find novel ways to access their offices using car-sharing services, rental bikes or e-scooters.

The strikes will be a major test of whether Macron, who came to power on the back of a promise to transform France and has also sought a prominent place on the international stage, has the political strength to push through his vision.

- Repeat of '95? -

The president is regarded to have seen off the threat posed by the "yellow vest" protesters whose weekly demonstrations against the lack of equality shook France since November last year.

But their anger could feed into the strike movement called by the unions and a transport strike on September 13 that caused gridlock in Paris might prove a harbinger of things to come.

"It will be a Black Thursday in transport," prophesied the Le Parisien daily.

But the Le Monde daily argued that channelling the anger of "yellow vests" movement represented both an opportunity but also a risk for the unions, who could lose control of the movement.

"The unions have embarked on an adventure that has little chance of achieving its aim by forcing Emmanuel Macron to give up the reform," it said in an analysis, arguing that "2019 is not 1995".

- Transport shutdown -

On the Paris metro, 11 of the city's 16 lines will shut down completely Thursday, with only the two fully automated lines running as normal.

Rail operator SNCF said 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains as well as regional trains across the country would be cancelled, while international services like the Eurostar and Thalys would be severely disrupted.

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