First clashes break out in Paris on day one of national strikes

Cheryl Sanders
December 5, 2019

Public sector workers are threatening to strike beyond Christmas to oppose changes they say will make them work longer for less money when they retire.

Thursday's strike - expected to be the largest in decades - was yet another test for President Emmanuel Macron, who has pushed through plans to reform France's retirement system despite sharp criticism from France's powerful trade unions.

France braced for crippling transport strikes on Thursday, launched in response to the government's plans to overhaul the retirement system. "People can work around it today and tomorrow, but next week people may get annoyed".

Eleven of 16 lines of the Paris metro were shut down, and many schools in the capital and throughout the country were also closed, as teachers themselves demonstrated. In Paris, commuters had to dust off old bicycles, rely on auto pooling apps, or just stay at home. The Eiffel Tower has been closed due to the national strike at the Eiffel Tower according to its website.

On Thursday afternoon, tens of thousands of union members marched through the center of the capital in a show of force. The protests in Paris run from Gare de l'Est through to Place de la Republique.

Protests in other cities were mainly peaceful. Protesters were filmed attacking bicycles and setting them on fire. Unions said the event brought together about 100,000, though the prefecture of Haute Garonne said it was 33,000 people.

Macron's aim is to standardize the 42 different retirement schemes in France into a single points-based system that would calculate pensions for all employees in the same way. "Progress is not about working more and more".

But beyond the push to preserve current pension terms, the protests also reflect "an anger and a dislike of Macron in society", Beardsley says, noting the criticisms the president has faced in the wake of the Yellow Vest cost-of-living protests of last autumn.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said thousands of anarchist "black bloc" and hardcore "yellow vest" protesters were expected to wreak havoc.

Having emerged from that crisis, he carries himself with a swagger on the world stage, publicly upbraiding U.S. President Donald Trump this week over his approach to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance and counter-terrorism.

Transilien regional trains, operated by French national railway operator SNCF, are seen at the Saint-Lazare railway station in Paris during a strike by French transportation workers as part of a day of national strike and protests against French government's pensions reform plans.

"People are spoiling for a fight", Christian Grolier, a senior official from the hard-left Force Ouvriere union which is helping organise the strike, told Reuters.

Unprepared tourists discovered historic train stations standing empty Thursday, with about nine out of 10 of high-speed TGV trains canceled. Signs at Paris' Orly Airport showed "cancelled" notices, with authorities saying 20 per cent of flights were grounded.

Protesters against the pension reform gather in downtown Toulouse.

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