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For Paris train driver, strike action is a family affair

PARIS (Reuters) - Most days, Yannick Stec drives a Paris metro train through tunnels beneath the Arc de Triomphe, but on Tuesday he was on strike and marching above ground to protect France’s public services from a government he said is bent on undermining them.

Paris transport network (RATP) metro driver Yannick Stec is seen during a demonstration against French government's pensions reform plans in Paris as part of a second day of national strike and protests in France, December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Caroline Pailliez

Stec, a 37-year-old whose father, great-uncle, wife and sister-in-law have all been Paris public transport employees, joined thousands of strikers protesting against President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reforms.

A day earlier, in the apartment in a public housing project he shares with his wife and three young children, he said the public service his family served for generations was being wrecked by a relentless drive to cut costs.

“When will it stop? Because it’s never enough,” he said, sitting on a sofa next to a bouncy chair usually occupied by his four-week-old baby son.

“There is this liberal tendency to provide gifts to the richest, while the middle classes and working classes have nothing.”

Stec joined RATP, the state enterprise that runs Paris buses, metros and suburban train lines, in 2000 at the age of 18 and trained to be a maintenance mechanic.

Six years into his career, he had an accident at work and lost part of his right foot. After recovering, he retrained as a train driver.

Last month, according to his pay-slip, he earned 2,249 euros, an amount which was boosted by working weekends and nights.

The company pension scheme - one of dozens that Macron wants to merge into a single, uniform system - allows him to retire with a full pension aged 55, seven years before the standard retirement age.

Macron says French people overall will be no worse off, and the reform will make pensions fairer. But Stec does not believe that. “They’ll make us work more to earn less,” he said.

He described how his job had changed since his father’s time. He said that, as the company tried to cut losses and hit performance targets, jobs were reduced.

Yet passenger numbers were up, drivers were under pressure to keep the trains moving fast and they also had to deal with problems like suspect packages.

“You have to watch the doors, the clock, keep driving well, speak nicely even when you’re annoyed,” he said. “That takes a lot of effort.”

On Tuesday, dressed in a red jacket with the name of his CGT trade union on it, and carrying a red flag, he joined up with dozens of RATP colleagues near the Invalides museum complex, in central Paris.

With him in the column of protesters that set off through Paris was his sister-in-law Sonia Latouz, who has worked at RATP since she was 19.

“In the family, we’re all very much involved in this fight,” she said.

Editing by Christian Lowe and Mike Collett-White