Strikes disrupted train, flight, school and business services in France on Thursday as unions led huge protests against government plans to raise the retirement age for most workers.
Protests in major French cities, including Paris, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and Nice, brought transport services to a standstill on Thursday. The Eiffel Tower was closed to visitors and the country’s power grid was also under pressure.
Eight of the biggest unions had called for a “first day of strikes and protests” against pension reforms put forward by the government of President Emmanuel Macron. The legislation will require French citizens to work until the age of 64, out of the current 62, to be entitled to a full state pension.
Philippe Martinez, general secretary of France’s largest union, CGT, told reporters he expected the total number of protesters to exceed 1 million.
Train lines in France were experiencing “serious interruptions”, according to the French railway authority SNCF. Metro lines in Paris have been affected by full or partial closures, the city’s transport authority RATP said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Eurostar canceled several services between the French capital and London, according to its website, and flights at Orly airport in Paris have been cancelled. Charles de Gaulle in Paris reported “some delays” due to the air traffic controllers’ strike, but no cancellations.
CGT, which registered more than 200 protest events across the country, said most workers at the TotalEnergies (TOT) refinery have left, disrupting deliveries of oil products. TotalEnergies (TOT) said the fuel supply at its service station network would not be affected.
More than 40% of primary school teachers and more than a third of secondary school teachers are on strike, according to the French Ministry of Education.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told French radio station RTL on Wednesday that more than 10,000 police and military officers will be deployed to the protests, including 3,500 officers stationed in Paris.
Macron’s proposed pension reforms come as workers in France, as elsewhere, come under pressure from rising food and energy bills. Nurses and ambulance drivers in the UK are also on strike Thursday over pay and working conditions.
Thousands of people took part in massive demonstrations on the streets of Paris last year to protest the cost of living, and strikes by workers demanding higher wages caused fuel pumps to run dry across the country a few months ago. .
“This reform falls at a time when there is a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, a lot of fatigue. In fact, it comes at the worst time,” the head of the CFE-CGC union, François Hommeril, told CNN on Tuesday, pointing to the inflation that has rocked Europe this year following the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. .
The French government has said that an increase in the retirement age is necessary to address the pension funding gap. France spent nearly 14% of GDP on state pensions in 2018, more than most other countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Government spokesman Olivier Veran told reporters on Wednesday that 40% of French workers will be able to retire before the age of 64 under the proposed regime because of exceptions for those who started work early or have physically demanding jobs. .
“We have the most protective system, the most developed in Europe [for pensions],” he said. “Even after the reforms, we will retire in France better and earlier than in almost all eurozone countries,” he added.
In Europe and many other developed economies, the age at which full pension benefits are awarded is 65 and is getting closer to 67.
The pension review has long been a controversial issue in France, with street protests halting reform efforts in 1995 and successive governments facing strong resistance to changes that were finally approved in 2004, 2008 and 2010.
An earlier attempt by Macron to revamp France’s pension system was met with national strikes in 2019 before being abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
French unions will meet on Thursday night to decide whether the strike should continue.