Tags: french strikes pension sarkozy

Strikes Challenge Sarkozy On Pension Reform

Thursday, 23 September 2010 06:47 AM

French trade unions launched the second 24-hour strike in a month on Thursday against President Nicolas Sarkozy's unpopular pension reform, seeking to force him to reverse plans to raise the retirement age to 62 from 60.

The walk-out began on Wednesday evening on several intercity train lines, stranding some passengers in stations, and expanded to slow morning commuter traffic around the country. Most international air and rail links were not affected.

Widespread disruption was expected in schools and other public services while unions hoped the huge turnout they expect for street protests would top the demonstrations on September 7.

"The number of demonstrators will be decisive for the future of the movement," Francois Chereque, head of the big CFDT union, told RMC radio, adding that more protesters were expected in Paris this time.

Unions said 2.5-2.7 million protested around France on September 7, while police estimated the number at 1.1 million -- amounting either way to a significant turnout.

Up to 50 percent of flights were canceled at airports in the capital and other cities, airport authorities said.

Train services were cut by half or more, while Eurostar rail links to Britain were running normally and other international links were close to normal, the state railway said. The Paris metro ran at about three-quarters of normal service.

Labor Minister Eric Woerth, in charge of steering the bill through parliament, vowed to press ahead regardless, telling reporters on Wednesday: "We haven't changed. We are very firm on the core of the reform, which is (the retirement) age."

The government says the legislation is essential to erase a growing deficit in the pay-as-you-go pension system, curb rising public debt and preserve France's coveted AAA credit rating, which enables it to borrow at the lowest market rates.

"If you don't reform it, it simply won't be viable and we won't be able to pay French people's pensions," Woerth said.

The unrest mirrors action elsewhere in Europe as indebted governments cut back on spending, notably in Greece and Spain, where more protests loom in the next two weeks in response to some of the harshest austerity measures in the euro zone.

French unions and the left-wing opposition say the plans to raise the retirement age to 62 by 2018, raise civil servants' contributions to private sector levels and make people work longer for a full pension are unjust.

They will be harshest on those who start work young or do physically exhausting jobs, and on women who take career breaks to have children and will have to work till 67 for a full pension.

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Thursday, 23 September 2010 06:47 AM
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