France crippled by biggest strike in years

France’s largest nationwide strike in years has severely disrupted schools and transport.

Workers are angry about planned pension reforms that would see them retiring later or facing reduced payouts.

School and transport workers have been joined by police, lawyers and hospital and airport staff for a general walkout.

President Emmanuel Macron wants to introduce a universal points-based pension system.

That would replace France’s current system, which has 42 different pension schemes across its private and public sectors, with variations in retirement age and benefits.

“What we’ve got to do is shut the economy down,” said union official Christian Grolier of the Force Ouvrière (Workers’ Force). “People are spoiling for a fight.”

Workers including nurses and hospital staff, lawyers and police officers, primary and high school teachers, refuse collectors, energy staff and postal workers have joined the strike.

By midday, 180,000 people had joined demonstrations across France, with a march in Paris beginning at 14:00 local time (13:00 GMT), local reports said.

The CGT union said workers had blocked seven of the country’s eight oil refineries, potentially causing fuel shortages if the strike continues.

In Paris popular tourist sites including the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d’Orsay and the Palace of Versailles have shut for the day.

There were also reports of some clashes between protesters and police. By 15:00 local time, police in Paris had detained 25 people, Le Parisien reported. In the western city of Nantes, protesters were tear-gassed after some threw projectiles at police.

Meanwhile the Extinction Rebellion group said it had sabotaged thousands of e-scooters by painting over the QR codes that smart phone users scan to unlock the vehicles.

The group said this was because e-scooters – despite being widely viewed as an ecologically-friendly form of transport – actually required large quantities of energy and resources during their manufacture and had short life cycles.

Train driver Cyril Romero from Toulouse told France Info he would reconsider his job if the reforms went through.

“I started in 2001 with a contract that allowed me to leave at 50. But like everyone else, I got the reforms which pushed back my early retirement age to 52-and-a-half and then, in reality, 57-and-a-half for full pension. Now they want to make us work even longer.”

An unnamed history teacher, writing in HuffPost, was planning to strike on Friday as well as Thursday. -BBC

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