Published: Thu, December 05, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

France brought to a near-standstill as enormous strike gets underway

France brought to a near-standstill as enormous strike gets underway

Police fired tear gas at protesters in the centre of Paris on Thursday and public transport ground to a near halt in one of the biggest strikes in France for decades, aimed at forcing President Emmanuel Macron to ditch a planned reform of pensions. France's current system has 42 different pension schemes for its private and public sectors, with variations in retirement age and benefits.

The Eurostar train service, which connects London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, announced significant cancellations, as did the British budget airline EasyJet, which said it was axing some 233 flights on Thursday.

What's driving concern? Many fear that under Macron's new universal retirement system, they will have to work longer for less, even though the official retirement age in France is 62 - one of the lowest among the 36 countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The reforms have not yet been finalized, but a series of new proposals published at the end of November have sparked a wave of anger across the country.

That could change under the proposed reforms, laid out in a report in June by the high commissioner for pensions, Jean Paul Delevoye.

"What we've got to do is shut the economy down", union official Christian Grolier of the Force Ouvrière (Workers' Force) said.

Firefighters are among those who say they will lose out if Mr Macron introduces the reforms.

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Rail workers voted to extend their strike through Friday, while labour unions at the Paris bus and metro operator RATP said their walkout would continue until Monday. The Eiffel Tower has been closed due to the national strike at the Eiffel Tower according to its website. Trouble broke out near the capital's Place de la Republique, when some protesters set fire to a truck trailer. In the western city of Nantes, protesters were tear-gassed after some threw projectiles at police. By 16:00 local time, police in Paris had detained 40 people, Le Parisien reported.

"The government is doing its utmost to limit the impact of the strike", Edouard Phillipe, the prime minister, said in a statement.

A man holds a placard reading "No choice: the strike or the death" during a demonstration against the pension overhauls in Bordeaux.

The Eiffel Tower shut down Thursday, France's vaunted high-speed trains stood still and teachers walked off the job as unions launched nationwide strikes and protests over the government's plan to overhaul the retirement system.

The battle between Macron and the unions for public support will be pivotal to the strike's success.

Eric Mettling, who joined the yellow vests at the start of their movement, said the general strike had brought together social movements across France in a manner unprecedented in recent memory to denounce "the social crisis".

Numerous plans have different retirement ages and benefits. "Progress is not about working more and more". Some of these existing schemes, such as those for Paris metro conductors, allow certain workers to retire as early as 52 and to receive monthly pensions of approximately $4,100.

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