On Board With A Train Driver During France's Transit Strike
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
On Day 36 of a French transit strike, labor unions staged marches and protests across the country. They denounced President Emmanuel Macron's plan to overhaul the French pension system and raise the retirement age. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley followed one of the striking rail workers.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: This week, a cafe in Paris' 13th arrondissement held an evening of solidarity for the rail workers with a live band. That's where I met 34-year-old Gauthier Tacchella, who drives the commuter train linking Paris with Charles de Gaulle Airport. Tacchella says even though he hasn't been paid in over a month, he won't stop striking.
GAUTHIER TACCHELLA: You know, we're doing that for a good fight. So we don't think about the money. We don't think about how long it is.
BEARDSLEY: The evening also offers a chance for train drivers to talk to the commuters they're inconveniencing. Tacchella says it's crucial to have public support.
TACCHELLA: Of course people are angry, but they know that we don't fight only for our pensions. We fight for everybody's pensions. We've got - at least for now, we've got the majority of the population behind us, and that's very comforting.
BEARDSLEY: This morning, Tacchella and dozens of his striking co-workers held a pep rally at the Gare du Nord train station, where they bashed the president and rallied their troops ahead of the protest march. Train drivers are allowed early retirement for what was once considered a hardship job. Macron's plan would end that. Tacchella says they don't shovel coal anymore, but driving a train is still hard work with difficult hours.
TACCHELLA: This is a very stressful work because you got to have attention every time. You've got to verify everything. That's why you cannot drive more than 5 hours continually.
BEARDSLEY: These strikers say the French retirement system does not need fixing. Most French people are attached to their state-run retirement system, which they fear President Macron will privatize. Tacchella says the president is already partially privatizing the railways.
TACCHELLA: When you've got private companies, they want to make money. That's normal. But we are a public service. We're not here to make money. So our first goal is security, and their first goal is money.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in French).
BEARDSLEY: Tacchella and his fellow rail workers head out into the street, chanting and waving banners and torches. They say this battle is about everything workers have fought for over the last century - paid leave, a decent minimum wage and good health care. They are now counting on workers from other sectors to walk off their jobs and join the battle.
Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.