President Macron’s reform programme faces a make-or-break moment, as French unions stage a day of mass strikes and protests against his plans to push back the age of retirement.
A new bill due to go through parliament will raise the official age at which people can stop work from 62 to 64.
Public transport has been badly hit and many schools are closed.
Turnout was significant at some of the 200-plus protests across France. The biggest was taking place in Paris.
Tens of thousands of protesters marched across the city from Place de la République during the afternoon.
There were smaller demonstrations earlier, in cities including Nantes, Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille and Toulouse, as train drivers, public sector workers and refinery staff walked out.
On some rail lines, as few as one in 10 services were operating, while the Paris metro was running a skeleton service. The main secondary education union said 65% of teachers were on strike, although the education ministry said it was 35%.
Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, predicted more than a million people would take to the streets. Police were out in force in Paris in case of violence from ultra-left “black bloc” infiltrators.
Under the proposals outlined earlier this month by Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, from 2027 people will have to work 43 years to qualify for a full pension, as opposed to 42 years now.
Hailed by the government as a vital measure to safeguard France’s share-out pension system, the reform is proving deeply unpopular among the public, with 68% saying they are opposed, according to an IFOP poll this week.
All the country’s unions – including so-called “reformist” unions that the government had hoped to win to its side – have condemned the measure, as have the left-wing and far-right oppositions in the National Assembly.
President Emmanuel Macron was on a visit to Spain on Thursday, but Labour Minister, Olivier Dussopt, warned that some opponents were using the issue to spread “fake news” and play on people’s fears.
Because his Renaissance party does not have a majority in the Assembly, President Macron will be forced to rely on support from the 60 or so MPs of the conservative Republicans party. Although in principle in favour of pension reform, even some of them have warned they could vote against.