Huge strike paralyzes France in protest at pension reform

PARIS — Even the Eiffel Tower is on strike.

An open-ended general strike by rail workers, public sector employees — including teachers, law enforcement, postal workers, doctors, nurses and journalists — Yellow Jackets, students, lawyers, Air France employees and air traffic controllers, kicked off on Thursday across France to protest the governments plans for pension reform.

Hundreds of thousands of people took part in marches across France in support of the strike. Some 250,000 marched in Paris, according to the CGT trade union. Some 500 anarchists and “black block” radicals clashed with police, who fired tear gas and tried to isolate the radicals from the rest of the group, French media reported.

Elsewhere in the country, some 450,000 people demonstrated in the streets.

Later in the day, Paris public transport unions announced the strike has been extended till Monday, while the national rail companys trade unions extended the strike until Friday. Unions also called for a mass protest on Saturday.

President Emmanuel Macron was “following the situation closely, with calm and determination,” according to his office.

Though details of the pension reform have not been announced yet, it is expected to scrap the current systems countless exceptions and specialized schemes for rail workers and public sector employees, and replace them with one general, centralized system. This has trade unions up in arms.

The French presidency said Thursday that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is due to announce the general framework of the reform in the middle of next week.

The strike has paralyzed public transport and vital services across the country.

“We dont think there will be a significant improvement [of public transport traffic] tomorrow” — Élisabeth Borne, environment minister

Fifty-one percent of primary school teachers and 42 percent of secondary school teachers are on strike Thursday, according to numbers published by the Ministry of Education at midday.

Eighty-five percent of train operators, and 73 percent of train controllers are on strike, the national rail company SNCF said. Ninety percent of high-speed trains were canceled across the country. TGV, Eurostar and Thalys services are affected, the operator said.

Only two out of 16 subway lines were running normally in Paris Thursday morning, while traffic on 11 lines was completely suspended. A reduced number of trains ran during the morning rush hour on the remaining three lines, and was interrupted after 9:30 a.m. Public transport was also severely disrupted in other big cities like Strasbourg, Marseille and Toulouse.

Train operators had given two months notice of their planned strike, allowing commuters to plan for alternative means of transport. As a result, many train stations were deserted Thursday morning as people opted to work from home, or, for those who could, walk or bike to work. Roads even saw less traffic jams than usual in the Paris area.

In Montpellier, people take part in a demonstration against pension overhauls | Sylvain Thomas/AFP via Getty Images

“We dont think there will be a significant improvement [of public transport traffic] tomorrow,” Minister of the Environment Élisabeth Borne, who oversees transport, said Thursday morning.

Disruption of air travel seems less severe. Air France announced it is expecting to operate all its long-haul flights, 85 percent of its medium-haul flights and almost 70 percent of its domestic flights.

The strike looks set to last at least a few days, as trade unions use it as a pressure tactic in ongoing negotiations with the government.

“If [Thursday] is not enough, we will have to continue,” Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, Read More – Source