French General Strike

A section of the 220,000-strong crowd assembling for the march in Marseille yesterday
A section of the 220,000-strong crowd assembling for the march in Marseille yesterday

PARIS – French workers are on strike again today and staging rallies to protest the government’s bid to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. Rail and flights services were disrupted, with cancellations reported in Paris airports and French train stations.

A twenty-four-hour strike at the French rail network SNCF has disrupted local and national train services across the country. In Paris, the suburban RATP network has been affected, though less than expected, and Parisian bus and metro services were running as usual.

The eight public sector unions urging workers to walk off the job are confident they’ll see a response from both the public and private sectors.

Teachers, postal workers, health workers and those in the judicial system have all filed strike notices, while public television and radio stations are primed to stop work. Following suite are staff within the telecom and energy industries, and in museums.

Fifty per cent of flights at Paris Orly are to be cancelled and 40 per cent at the capital’s Charles de Gaulle airport, said France’s civil aviation authority. That’s more than the 25 per cent cancelled on a previous day of action, on September 7.

‘The priority is to widen mobilisation,’ said Bernhard Thibault, the head of the CGT union, adding that the September 4 protest may have been hindered by the fact that many French people had recently returned from summer holidays.

The unions said 2.5 million people went on strike, with 220 protests held across France, while the interior ministry said the figure was considerably lower, at 1.1 million.

Despite this last call to arms, timed to coincide with a parliamentary debate on the issue, the reform bill passed through France’s National Assembly, and is to be examined by the upper house in two weeks, where it is expected to pass.

Under current rules, the French can retire at age 60 if they have paid social security contributions for 40.5 years, although they are not entitled to a full pension until they are 65.

If the reform bill is finally adopted, the retirement age will go up to 62 by 2018, and the pension age to 67, and workers will have to pay social security contributions for an extra year to get a full pension.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the reform stands to save 70 billion euros by 2030, at a time when France’s public deficit of about eight per cent of GDP is well above the eurozone target of three per cent.

Unions and opposition politicians say the reforms plan puts an unfair burden on workers.