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Talks offer over French strikes

  • Story Highlights
  • Traffic jams ease as French government offers talks with striking unionns
  • Some long distance trains operating
  • Workers are striking over Sarkozy's plan to reform pensions
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PARIS, France (CNN) -- More trains were running and there were fewer traffic jams Thursday after the French government proposed negotiating with transport unions striking over pension reforms.

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Passengers walk on a crowded platform at the Gare du Nord station in Paris.

French media reported traffic was backed up 300 km (186 miles) on the roads into Paris on Thursday; that was 60 km (37 miles) shorter than the day before, though still double what it would be during a normal commute.

Of the long-distance trains, operator TGV reported that 150 out of 700 were running Thursday, compared to 90 the day before. The Paris Metro subway system appeared to slowly be coming back online.

Seven labor unions went on strike late Tuesday, angry over plans by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to reform pensions. The reforms focus on special pension plans that allow some workers -- mostly train drivers -- to retire as early as 50.

The government vowed to stand firm in the face of the strikes and has refused to negotiate on the central issue of how long employees must work before they can retire and receive their pensions. Photo See images of the strike »

But Wednesday night, the government sent a letter to union heads saying it would be willing to discuss all other issues and negotiate sector by sector to arrange a return to work. Among the possible proposals is reforming the way pensions are calculated, to give workers more pension money upon retirement.

While there has been no official union response, at least two of the larger unions have said the government proposal has elements they could negotiate on.

Apparent moves toward compromise may have encouraged more union members to go back to their jobs Thursday, but several other factors were also at play.

Public support for the striking workers was low, with recent polls suggesting a majority of French backed the government's firm stance in the face of the unions. One reason is that the striking train drivers enjoy benefits that the majority of French workers do not -- including early retirement.

Workers also may not have wanted to be out of work for much longer in the weeks before the Christmas holidays.

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The strikes also weren't well-supported to begin with. Just 60 percent of railroad workers and 42 percent of transit workers walked off the job. Video CNN's Robin Oakley explains the problems facing Sarkozy »

One remaining complication were pockets of determined rank-and-file union members around the country who vowed to continue the strike until the government meets their demands. The defiance could create a split between union leaders and members. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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