PARIS: A nationwide strike is under way in France in a second wave of protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Eight big unions are taking part in the strike, which is disrupting schools, public transport and oil refineries.
Protests are taking place across France, after a first day of action attracted more than a million people.
The unions said half the country’s teachers had joined the strike.
The education ministry said the number was just over a quarter.
The Macron government is pushing ahead with its pension age reforms in the face of opinion polls that suggest two-thirds of voters are opposed to the changes, which begin their passage through National Assembly next week.
Without a majority in parliament, the government will have to rely on the right-wing Republicans for support as much as the ruling parties’ own MPs.
Ahead of the main protest in Paris, thousands of marchers turned out in Toulouse, Marseille and Nice in the south, and Saint Nazaire, Nantes and Rennes in the west.
Street protests were expected in at least 200 towns and cities and a reported 11,000 police were deployed to cover the demonstrations.
In several cities, the numbers were said to be higher than during the first national strike 12 days ago. Thierry, 58, told Le Figaro that he had begun working at the age of 18 and felt that working even longer felt unfair.
“Macron is certain to lose,” far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon told reporters in Marseille. “Nobody wants his reforms, and the more the days go by, by the greater the opposition to them.”
There was severe disruption to transport, with one in three high-speed trains running and only two driverless metro lines operating normally in Paris. Large crowds were reported on one of the main over-ground lines in the capital.
The CGT union said at least three-quarters of workers had walked out at the big Total Energies oil refineries and fuel depots, although the company said the number was far lower. Power plants reported reduced production after workers went on strike at the main electricity company EDF.
One of the main teachers’ unions said some 55% of secondary school teachers had walked out. High school pupils staged protests outside some schools and students said they would occupy Sciences Po University in Paris in support of the strikers.
“A lot of French people feel that working is more and more painful. It’s not that they don’t want to work, they don’t want to work in these conditions,” Sciences Po political scientist Bruno Palier told the media.
The government has indicated it may move some way on the detail of the reform but has refused to give in on the main thrust of the raising the retirement age by two years to 64.
“Any kind of reform that is going to ask people to work longer will be unpopular, but we’ve been elected on this reform,” said Christopher Weissberg, an MP in President Macron’s Renaissance party.
At 62, France’s retirement age is lower than most other countries in Western Europe. Italy and Germany have moved towards raising the official retirement age to 67, while Spain’s retirement age is 65 and in the UK it is 66.
In France, very few workers have personal pensions linked to capital investments, but there are now only 1.7 workers paying into the shared pension fund per person in retirement. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)