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France brought to a standstill over attack on pensions

MILLIONS of French workers took to the streets in protest as the country was brought to a standstill in a “citizens’ insurrection” over the government’s attack on pension schemes.

Workers walked out on the second day of industrial action against President Emmanuel Macron’s scheme to raise the French retirement age by two years to 64.

The eight main trade union centres said that more than two million people took part in 250 protests against the changes, including a massive rally of hundreds of thousands in Paris. 

France’s oil industry was paralysed, with the CGT union centre saying that nearly all workers at TotalEnergies went on strike.

High school and university students also joined the protests, with a few dozen students occupying the main building at the Sciences-Po university overnight.

“Obviously this is young people’s business,” said Colin Champion, a student leader at the Lycee Voltaire in Paris, one of several schools blockaded by pupils in the capital.

Even a prison in the south-western city of Nimes was blocked by staff protesting, a union source said.

Polling shows that most French people oppose the reform, but President Macron’s government says that it is determined to ram it through. 

The reform is “vital” to ensure that the pension system keeps working, Mr Macron said on Monday.

Speaking in Marseille, where unions say 205,000 people took to the streets, veteran left-wing politician Jean-Luc Melenchon called the uprising against the government proposals “a form of citizens’ insurrection.”

CGT general secretary Philippe Martinez told reporters that there were “10,000 demonstrators in Reunion, 16,000 in Tarbes, 25,000 in Nice and 20,000 in Avignon.”

Saying he believed the support on Tuesday was greater than on the previous day of action on January 19, Mr Martinez told MPs “to listen to those who elected them. Despite attempts at division, union unity is strong.”

Transport, schools and the energy sectors were all heavily hit by the strike. There were virtually no regional or high-speed trains operating in the country.

Air France said that one in 10 short and medium-haul services had been cancelled. About half of all nursery and primary school teachers took industrial action.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who French communist leader Fabien Roussel yesterday compared to Margaret Thatcher, is under increasing pressure to modify the proposals.

Unions say that women in particular will be discriminated against by the plans as they take time out from work to have children.

The proposals are set to be considered by the National Assembly where Mr Macron’s party no longer has a majority.

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