Mass strike on pensions transport tangles in France
PARIS: The Eiffel Tower They closed on Thursday, France's boasted high-speed trains stopped and teachers quit work when unions launched strikes and protests across the country over the government's plan to review the retirement system.
The Paris authorities blocked the presidential palace and deployed 6,000 police for what is expected to be a large demonstration in the capital, an outbreak of anger against President Emmanuel Macron for his central reform, seen as a threat to the lifestyle French.
The Louvre Museum and other sites warned about the interruption of the strike, and Paris hotels struggled to fill the rooms. Many visitors, including the US secretary of energy, canceled plans to travel to one of the most visited countries in the world in the middle of the strike.
Tourists who were not prepared discovered the historic train stations that were empty on Thursday, with approximately nine out of every 10 high-speed TGV trains canceled. The signs at the Orly airport in Paris showed canceled notices, as the civil aviation authority announced that 20% of the flights were on the ground.
Some travelers showed their support for striking workers, but others complained of being involved in another person's struggle.
I arrived at the airport this morning and I had no idea of the strike, and I was waiting 2 hours at the airport for the train to arrive and it did not arrive, said summer traveler Ian Crossen of New York. I feel a little frustrated. And I have spent a lot of money. I've spent money that I apparently didn't need.
Paris metro stations were closed, complicating traffic and causing many passengers to use shared bicycles or electric scooters. Many workers in the Paris region worked from home or took a day off to stay with their children, since 78 percent of the teachers in the capital were on strike.
Preparing for possible violence and damage along the route of the Paris march, the police ordered the closure of all businesses, cafes and restaurants in the area. Authorities also banned protests on Champs-Elysees Avenue, around the presidential palace, parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral. Yellow vest activists plan to join unions in protests in Paris and cities across the country, pressing their campaign for more economic justice.
The big question is how long the strike will last. Transportation Minister Elisabeth Borne said she expects travel problems to be just as bad on Friday.
The unions say it is an indefinite movement and they hope to maintain momentum for at least a week, hoping to force the government to make concessions.
Public sector workers fear that Macron's reform will force them to work longer and reduce their pensions. And they see this fight as crucial to save France's social security network.
The five weeks of paid vacations, the state health system, got all that through the social struggles of people who sacrificed financially for us to get that, said railway worker Gilles Pierre, who participated in Thursday's march.
Pierre, who is 41 years old and under the current system can retire at age 52, acknowledges that the current system is generous, but argues that it is fair compensation for the limitations that come with jobs like his, such as working on weekends and holidays.
What do we want for our retirement years? Enjoy it or be a retiree in a hospital or a bed and not be able to enjoy life?
For Macron, the retirement reform is central to his plan to transform France so that he can compete globally in the 21st century. The government argues that France's 42 retirement systems must be rationalized.
After extensive meetings with the workers, the high pension commissioner is expected to detail the reform proposals next week, and the prime minister will announce the government's plan days after that.