• Transcript

    Nationalised in the 1930s, France's railway has been a generous state employer.

    Jobs for life, with perks of early retirement and ample pensions ....

    The discussion now is about the track to the future - that the government says must lead to reform...

    And a shake-up of rights for workers.

    (SOUNDBITE) (French) FRENCH TRANSPORT MINISTER, ELISABETH BORNE, SAYING:

    "We do this for better public railway. We do this to have a more efficient, less closed-off SNCF, with all the assets in the sector."

    In case the minister doesn't convince, the government hopes money will do.

    It's promised ten million euros of investment a day for a decade ..

    And hinted at a write-off SNCF's 47 billion euros of debt.

    Both sweeteners for labour unions - that so far, they refuse to swallow.

    They're due to meet in two weeks to decide what action to take.

    (SOUNDBITE) (French) SECRETARY GENERAL OF RAILWAY BRANCH OF CGT UNION, LAURENT BRUN, SAYING:

    "The minister has not addressed our fears nor the expectations of railway workers, so our position remains to fight this."

    Labour disputes nothing new for France - or its rail workers.

    This strike was in 2005 - go back further to 1995 and this one helped tip a prime minister out of office.

    France's president, Emmanuel Macron, made reform his campaign pledge - and now must deliver.

    If he can.

    SOUNDBITE (English) SWISSQUOTE BANK HEAD OF MARKET STRATEGY, PETER ROSENSTREICH, SAYING:

    "It will be a much more challenging prospect than just standing on a stump and making a pretty speech. I think Macron will have a very difficult time bending the unions to his will."

    Even if he fails, the railway may have to reform anyway.

    Next year sees the network opened up to competition ....

    The government denies privatisation lies ahead.

    And the track 'ahead' still potentially a tricky one for voters.

    Many support the reforms - but Macron's poll ratings are slipping anyway on fears over how they could impact services - and derail social rights.