A nationwide strike brought much of France to a halt yesterday as unions kicked off a massive protest against a pension overhaul by President Emmanuel Macron, which they say will force millions of people to work longer or face curtailed benefits.
Most schools were closed or only assuring daycare services, forcing many parents to find alternatives or stay home from work as trains, metros and buses were cancelled.
Thousands of people marched in several cities ahead of two major demonstrations planned for Paris, where traffic was lighter than usual as many people simply took the day off to avoid the travel chaos.
Union leaders have vowed to keep up their protest unless Macron drops the pension overhaul, considered a centre piece of the centrist president’s push to reform wide swathes of the French economy. Later it was announced that the strike had been extended till Monday.
Officials have admitted that French workers will gradually have to work longer, but so far have given few details of how a “universal” system that does away with dozens of separate schemes will affect their retirement plans. Macron’s office said Thursday that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would lay out the framework for the reform next week, after wrapping up negotiations with unions.
Around 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains as well as regional lines were cancelled, and Air France has axed 30 percent of domestic flights and 15 percent of short-haul international routes.
The CGT union said workers had blocked seven of the country’s eight oil refineries, raising the prospect of fuel shortages if the strike continues.