French workers take to streets to protest over pension reform
Hundreds of thousands of French workers were gathering on Thursday ahead of marches through Paris and other cities on the first day of an indefinite national strike, disrupting transport and posing the biggest challenge to President Emmanuel Macron since the gilets jaunes demonstrations began a year ago. The public sector walkout, expected to be the biggest in 24 years, has been called by trade unions angry at sweeping pension reforms proposed by Mr Macron’s government that would eventually push back the retirement age for many workers. Rail services have been curtailed across France since Wednesday night, along with the Paris metro and bus networks. SNCF, the state rail group, said about one in 10 trains were running on suburban and high-speed lines, while international services such as Eurostar were also affected. Flights are also being hit by industrial action at Air France and by some air traffic controllers. Most teachers are on strike, with health workers, firefighters and students joining marches to air a range of grievances over staffing, financing and work conditions. A total of 245 separate demonstrations have been announced across France. “There is a sort of aggregation of discontents and a desire to signal dissatisfaction with the government,” said Nicolas Bouzou, economist at the Asterès consultancy, noting the French tradition to stage protests in the second half of an administration’s mandate. Mr Macron, who swept aside the established parties of left and right when he and his liberal La République en Marche party took control of the Elysée palace and the National Assembly in 2017 elections, is at the halfway mark of his presidency.