>> Paris commuters battled chaotic scenes as the first wave of three months of French rail strikes began. Threatening to put the brakes on President Emmanuel Macron's plans to modernize the French economy. The country's four main rail unions have called two days of stoppages to be repeated every five days.
They're protesting a shakeup of state owned railroad company SNCF. Reuters Luke Baker is in Paris where demonstrators gathered in large numbers.>> They don't wanna see what Macron wants which is the end of many of their benefits. They got a very generous payoff over the years. And they got a lot of early retirement and get other significant assistance from the state.
The state company is now heavily indebted. It's got 47 billion euros worth of debt. And that goes up by about 3 billion euros a year. Macron's determined to change that, but he faces a real struggle.>> SNCF said nearly half of the workers needed for the network's smooth running were absent on the day French media dubbed Black Tuesday.
Just one in four trains ran in the Paris region. While only one in eight high speed intercity trains were operating. The outcome of this strike is likely to set the tone for Macron's reform agenda in areas such as education and pensions. And will pose one of the biggest tests in his young presidency.
>> People are complaining but at the same time many French people say they recognize the right for SNCF workers to strike. They also say they think Macron is right to try to reform the company. So there is a lot of support on either side. And it's gonna be very telling few weeks.
>> The last time a French president took on the rail unions it ended badly. The strikes of 1995 paralyzed Paris and forced prime minister Alain Juppé to back down. But french unions are much weaker today than they were then and are divided over their response to Macron's reforms.