French lawmakers on Thursday gave final approval to a controversial reform of indebted state rail operator SNCF, handing President Emmanuel Macron a key victory in his battle with trade unions.
The vote in the Senate is a blow to the labour movement, which called three months of rolling strikes over the bill, the longest industrial action on French railways in over 30 years.
The bill also cleared the lower house of parliament in an earlier vote on Wednesday.
Analysts have compared the standoff between the centrist Macron and French railworkers with Margaret Thatcher’s showdown with British miners in the 1980s.
It is being closely watched as a sign of Macron’s ability to face down France’s unions, which have had success in pressuring previous governments to withdraw, or significantly water down, unpopular reforms.
Train drivers particularly had resisted plans to deny job and pension guarantees to new rail recruits, as well as plans to turn the SNCF into a joint-stock company, which they see as a first step toward privatisation.
The government argues the loss-making SNCF — a bastion of the union movement — needs to cut costs and improve flexibility before the EU passenger rail market opens up to competition.
A poll showed voters largely on board with the changes, unswayed by 30 days of strikes since early April that have caused headaches for millions of travellers on two days out of every five.
The SNCF has estimated the cost of the walkouts at 400 million euros ($470 million).
Labour leaders have refused to concede victory, announcing that the strikes would continue as planned until June 28.
“This strike is far from over,” Philippe Martinez of the hardline CGT, France’s biggest public sector union, said.