French commuters and travelers face chaos

French commuters and travelers faced chaos Tuesday as workers on the state-run railway system went on strike, disrupting national lines and suburban Paris trains. The open-ended strike at the SNCF national rail network, which started Monday evening, was one of the biggest protests in a week of demonstrations planned by groups including teachers, researchers and Paris transit workers.

About one in three trains were operating as normal on the suburban Paris network, while two in five high-speed TGV trains were running nationwide, the SNCF said. About 80 percent of international trains were expected to operate.

Four unions representing train drivers called the walkout to protest restructuring, job cuts, pay and what they see as creeping privatization of the train operator. The walkout marked France's sixth public transport strike this year.

Unions went ahead with the strike despite an assurance from the transport minister that the government has no intention of privatizing the rail network.

About 1,000 SNCF workers joined thousands of other public sector workers who marched in Paris on Saturday to protest against government efforts to privatize some public services.

The Communist-backed CGT union, which represents the majority of railway workers, also plans to lead Paris transportation workers in a one-day strike Wednesday over pay and benefits.

The same day, a top union of scientific researchers is scheduled to hold a protest against a planned government "research pact" that they say would jeopardize jobs and fall short of funding needs.

Two unions representing secondary school teachers are due to stop work Thursday to protest budget restrictions, job cuts and a new substitute-teacher system announced by the government, reports the AP. I.L.

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