France brought to standstill as unions claim largest strike in decades
(Update: changes headline, lede, adds detail throughout)
Paris, Mar 7 (EFE).- Over a million people in France went on strike Tuesday to protest against the government’s unpopular pension reforms which would raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 years.
Some 320 demonstrations have been organized across France and police are expecting between 1.1 and 1.4 million people to take part.
The strikes have paralyzed much of France’s transport system, with only 20% of high-speed trains running, suspending several international routes, while air traffic controllers also joined the action, leading to cancellations at airports in Paris, Beauvais, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Nantes, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice and Toulouse.
Truck drivers have also blockaded roads leading to cities such as Lille, Rennes, Perpignan, Saint Brieux and Cannes.
There were also mass walkouts in the energy sector: the CGT, the country’s second largest union, said no petrol had left any of France’s refineries since Tuesday morning, while three out of four terminals that facilitate sea imports of liquefied natural gas were blocked.
Schools have also been heavily impacted by the strikes, with the education ministry reporting that nearly a third of teachers had walked out.
Trade unions said Tuesday’s “historic” mobilization – the sixth day of strikes and protests since the reforms were announced in January – was the largest in 40 years.
Speaking to reporters at the front of a march in Paris, the secretary general of the CGT, Philippe Martinez, said the nationwide strike had achieved “what we wanted, to bring France to a standstill,” predicting that “the strikes are going to become generalized in many sectors.”
For the CGT leader, the “success” of the strike means the movement has found “another gear” in its efforts to force president Emmanuel Macron to abandon his pension reform plans, warning that a failure of the government to withdraw the proposal “would only set a powder keg on fire.”
Macron made pension reforms a key element of his electoral campaign and although he did not succeed in making the changes during his first term, the bill is now going through parliament.EFE