France is expecting its most serious strike today which is likely to paralyze the country over the weekend. The unions have warned that the turmoil would last into the next week as well. The strike has been called after President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to radically reform the pension. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets and key transport services are brought to a standstill.
The strikes, which began on Thursday, have recalled the winter of 1995 when three weeks of huge stoppages forced a social policy U-turn by the then-government.
President Macron was widely believed to have ridden out the challenge posed by the Yellow Vests whose weekly Saturday protests against inequality in France have shaken the government over the last year. Yellow Vests have also sought to utilize the momentum of the strike movement and are expected to hold protests across France today.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe insisted that the government would not abandon the plan even when it was prepared to bring it in more gradually. He said the government would work with trade unions to introduce a single point-based pension scheme. It would require the French to work a bit longer and replace dozens of more advantageous plans currently enjoyed by public sector workers.
Unions say Macron’s proposal for a single pension system would force millions of people in both the public and private sectors to work well beyond the official retirement age of 62.
At least eight lakh people took part in rallies around the country on Thursday, according to the Interior Ministry. It was one of the biggest demonstrations of union strength in nearly a decade. Several dozen people were arrested and three journalists were injured after reportedly being hit by tear gas or stun grenades.