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French Strikes Against Macron’s Pension Plan Enter 2nd Month

Geraldine Amiel and William Horobin

(Bloomberg) -- Strikes against French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plan entered their second month, the longest such action for state-owned railway company SNCF.

Transport remained gummed up as unions prepared for two more days of street protests while the government said a compromise was near.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will start another round of discussions with union representatives on Tuesday, which will mark the SNCF’s 34th consecutive day of strikes.

“I expect Edouard Philippe’s government to find a route to a quick compromise that respects the principles I have repeated,” Macron said during his New Year speech last week. “The pension reform I have committed to will be completed.”

Macron has already made unpopular changes to taxes, labor laws and the welfare system, but the pension reform is proving the most challenging. The labor unrest has already run longer than the 1995 strikes that forced the government to back off from changing the state system for retirement and health care.

The potential damage to the French economy is adding urgency to the talks as growth could be hampered if strikes drag on, the government has warned. The strike has curtailed public transportation for the past month and dented the hospitality industry’s revenue.

There were some signs that the momentum of strikes may be starting to wane as metro and railway services around Paris improved slightly, while SNCF said high-speed train operations should be back to almost normal as soon as Monday, with improvements for other trains.

There were also signs of compromise from the two sides, with lawmakers suggesting tweaks to some parts of the reform and moderate union CFDT proposing a conference on how to ensure the pension system is financially balanced.

“From the moment labor unions make proposals, it’s a good situation,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on France Inter radio Monday. “Never has compromise seemed so close to me; never has the possibility of getting an agreement seemed so within reach.”

A survey conducted Thursday and Friday by pollster Ifop and published on Sunday found that 44% of the French support the strikers, down from 51% just before Christmas. The latest results found 37% opposed to the protests and 19% were indifferent.

Unions still plan to step up demonstrations again as the holiday season ends, with calls for a fourth day of nationwide protests on Jan. 9 and a fifth on Jan. 11. The far-left CGT union is pushing for demonstrations, calling for a complete blockade of the country’s refineries from Jan. 7 to Jan. 10.

CGT leader Philippe Martinez said the government was responsible for the current stalemate over the pension reform, reiterating demands that it be scrapped in an interview with LCI TV on Sunday.

The movement has coalesced discontent from all sides with opposition parties, from the far-right National Rally to EELV, the environmental party, also calling for the government to spike the reform.

(Adds comments from finance minister in 6th, 7th and 8th paragraphs)

To contact the reporters on this story: Geraldine Amiel in Paris at gamiel@bloomberg.net;William Horobin in Paris at whorobin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Vidya Root

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