With just over a week to go before the first match in Euro 2016 gets underway in France, and with the CGT union causing fuel disruptions in the country, French president Francois Hollande is now facing significant transportation disruptions.
Workers at the country's national rail-operator SNCF began a rolling strike at 7pm Tuesday evening, while Metro and rail workers in Paris will start an open-ended strike on Thursday according to France 24. In addition to rail workers, the French Civil Aviation Authority is also set to stage a walkout from June 3 to 5 which is likely to result in cancellations and delays for flights as well.
SNCF said 17 percent of its staff were on strike Wednesday, leading to more than two-thirds of inter-city trains and nearly half of high speed TGV services being canceled, including the majority of trains to Spain and Italy.
"It's a nightmare today, even more than the other strike days" said a SNCF worker surveying the chaos at Ormesson station in the Paris suburbs, where commuters were struggling to squeeze on to one of the few trains that had shown up.
Pressure is building on Francois Hollande to walk back the unpopular labor reforms that the government slammed through parliament without a vote. The SNCF said that the strikes will continue until demands for better pay and conditions are met, and CGT union head Philippe Martinez proclaiming that "this week will see the strongest mobilization in three months."
Despite the disruptions, 46 percent of the people support the unions' calls an opinion poll showed Sunday. A pensioner from Marseille said that he "wholeheartedly supported" the strikes despite delays to his train journey. Even former president Nicolas Sarkozy has said that the government's handling of the crisis is leaving the country in "shambles", and warned of anarchy on the streets.
"Weakness, cowardice, a total loss of authority: this is the spectacle we are witnessing. The bill is far too weak to solve the problems, but stinging enough to arouse the passions of the left. The government has proven its weakness faced with protests." Sarkozy said.
For now, Hollande has stuck to his promise to stand by the reforms, however he announced Tuesday that school teachers would receive a pay raise worth $1.2 billion by 2019, and promised to speed up reorganization talks with the SNCF in an effort to calm the protests.
Throughout all of this chaos, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. CGT's Martinez hinted that negotiations may be an option, saying "let's talk again" and adding that there is "no pre-condition" during a debate Monday evening. Prime Minister Manuel Valls even said that "my door is open", although he insists that the government would not gut the bill of key elements.
We eagerly await to see who blinks first in this dramatic showdown, however with the Euro 2016 tournament looming, we suspect Hollande will be the first to the negotiating table very soon.