May 4, 2018 / 2:50 PM / 2 months ago

Online donations for French rail strikers top one million euros

* Walkout in 14th day, fewer strikers but disruption serious

* Online fund was launched by a university sociologist

PARIS, May 4 (Reuters) - Online donations to help French rail workers topped one million euros on Friday, a month after they began rolling strikes over President Emmanuel Macron’s drive to transform the heavily indebted state rail monopoly into a profit-making company.

Opinion polls show a majority of French people support the SNCF reform plan and the scale of response to a web-based petition for funds has surprised those who launched it.

“Who would have dreamed a month ago that it would reach a million? Nobody, and certainly not me,” said Jean-Marc Salmon, a university sociologist who teamed up with like-minded academics, authors and artists to launch the petition.

Train services were disrupted for a 14th day since early April on Friday by stoppages that are taking place for two out of every five days.

The capacity of the unions to maintain the strike will depend as much on the durability of their and their workers’ finances as on accumulating political capital.

The reform of the SNCF is the biggest since France’s nationalisation of the railways in 1937; it will phase out the SNCF monopoly in domestic passenger rail and end hiring on more protective contracts than in other sectors.

SNCF management said the share of staff striking had dropped to 17 percent this week from more than 30 percent when stoppages began on April 3.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is set to meet union chiefs on Monday. Analysts believe the government may try to win over the more moderate unions and break the united front that the four main unions have maintained so far.

SNCF debt tops 46 billion euros, much of it blamed on heavy investment in France’s much-admired TGV high-speed train network at the expense of a far bigger secondary rail network which the company admits neglecting over recent years.

Losses due to the current wave of strikes total about 250 million euros, according to the SNCF. (Reporting by Brian Love; editing by Richard Lough/Mark Heinrich)

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