A strike of almost three weeks on pension reforms in France is interrupting Christmas Eve celebrations, with tens of thousands of train ticket holders looking for alternative ways to travel during the holidays.
The workers of the national SNCF and RATP Parisian public and rail transport companies protest against the government's plan to merge the 42 pension plans of France into a single point-based system, which would cause some public employees to lose certain privileges.
There will be no surprises under the Christmas tree for those eager to travel on Tuesday, with up to 40 percent of high-speed regional trains and express trains canceled, along with up to 20 percent of other trains.
The SNCF also announced that on Tuesday night, trains between Paris and its suburbs will stop. Some lines will reopen on Wednesday morning, others only on Thursday.
Laurent Brun, of the CGT hardline union, said the strikers have a "set of plans to celebrate Christmas,quot; together while maintaining the action throughout the week.
The talks between the government and the unions last week failed to find a middle ground, and the strikers promised there would be no holiday truce unless the pension review plan was discarded.
Unions and others involved in the strike will meet with the government on January 7 to discuss pension reforms, the office of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Monday. The talks are expected to continue during the month of January.
On Saturday and Sunday, the last weekend before Christmas, the SCNF provided half of the usual amount of TGV high-speed trains, a third of TER regional services, a quarter of intercity trains and one in five that connects Paris with its outer suburbs.
Government plans would see some public employees, especially railroad personnel, losing early retirement and other benefits.
But the government insists that the new system would be more fair and transparent.
The unions expect a repeat of 1995 when the government backed down on pension reform after three weeks of subway and rail stops just before Christmas.
Its action is affecting companies, especially retailers, hotels and restaurants, during what should be one of the busiest periods of the year.
There is no Mass in Notre Dame
In other places, for the first time in more than 200 years, the faithful in Paris will not be able to attend the Christmas mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral, even being restored after a devastating fire.
"There will not be a midnight mass in Notre Dame. The last time this happened was during the French Revolution. Since 1803, there have always been Christmas masses in Notre Dame," said a spokeswoman for the diocese of Paris.
The fire of April 15 caused the collapse of the ceiling and the needle, although the main bell towers and exterior walls were saved, along with religious relics and valuable works of art.
"It is painful because we would have liked to celebrate Christmas in Notre Dame but, at the same time, there is also hope: we are moving forward with the reconstruction, for example, of this huge crane that will help eliminate this damn scaffolding." said Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, the chief administrative cleric of the cathedral.