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News Roundup: Strikes, Trains, & Tumbleweeds

French Strikes Continue – Longest in 50 Years

Protests continue in France as strikes by workers have now lasted over a month, making it the longest strike in France since 1968.

Workers in France can stop working at a much younger age than people in many other countries. The government offers many workers a pension.

But France’s government has 42 different pension systems, and French President Emmanuel Macron wants to simplify this. Mr. Macron says the government can’t afford to keep paying the pensions and that it isn’t fair to future workers not to fix the system.

Protest in Paris over pension reform on December 28, 2019.
Workers in France have been striking for over a month to protest planned changes to the pension system. President Macron says he will move ahead with the changes. The picture shows a protest in Paris on December 28.
(Source: Paule Bodilis/Jeanne Menjoulet, via Flickr.com.)

But workers don’t like Mr. Macron’s planned changes. They worry they’ll have to work longer and be paid less.

The strike, which started in early December, has hit trains and subways especially hard and made it difficult for people to get around.

Over 60% of French people support the strike, but that support is getting weaker. People are getting tired of dealing with the effects of the strike. Many workers are suffering after a month without pay, and businesses have lost a lot of money because of the strikes.

But workers aren’t giving up. A huge general protest is planned for January 9. Other protesters plan to block off locations that provide France’s fuel for four days starting January 7.

Mr. Macron says he will move ahead with the changes, but he hopes workers will talk with the government to find solutions both sides can accept.

Germany Lowers Long-Distance Train Prices

Starting Wednesday, long-distance train riders in Germany got a 10% cut on ticket prices. The move is part of the German government’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis.  The hope is that more people will take trains instead of planes, which pollute more.

Red train at the Hauptbahnhof in Dresden, Germany.
Germany’s railway company lowered prices for long-distance trips by 10%. The company can do this because the government lowered the tax on train travel from 19% to 7% to encourage more people to travel by train. Above is a train station in Dresden, Germany.
(Source: Lupus [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s railway company, lowered prices by 10% for trips longer than 31 miles (50 kilometers). The company could do this because the government lowered the tax on train travel from 19% to 7% to encourage more people to travel by train.

Deutsche Bahn believes the move could attract as many as 5 million more riders to its trains.

People traveling by train for shorter distances weren’t so lucky – they actually had a small price increase.

Washington State Highway Blocked by Tumbleweed

On New Year’s Eve, drivers on a highway in Washington state found themselves caught in an unusual storm – a storm of tumbleweeds.

Tumbleweeds are bushy plants that grow over a yard (1 meter) high. When they are grown, they break off at the base. The plant spreads its seeds as it’s blown along by the wind over open ground.

The Washington State Department of Transportation posted this picture of a car covered by tumbleweed.
Drivers traveling on New Year’s Eve had to stop because the highway was covered with tumbleweeds. When police arrived, they found the highway completely blocked, with cars buried under tumbleweeds piled as high as 30 feet (9 meters).
(Source: WSDOT East.)

Drivers traveling on New Year’s Eve found themselves unable to move along State Route 240 because it was covered with tumbleweeds. As drivers pulled to the side of the road, more tumbleweeds began to pile up on the cars.

When state police arrived, they found the highway completely blocked, with tumbleweeds piled up to 30 feet (9 meters) high. The blocked area was three football fields long.

It took police over ten hours working by hand and with snowplows to dig out the buried cars and clear the jam.

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