France was preparing for a second day of travel cancellations and school closures this morning as unions warned there would be no let-up in the strike called to protest planned pension reforms.
The first day of the protests, seen as a major test for President Emmanuel Macron’s ambitious vision of reforming France, saw 800,000 demonstrators including railway workers, teachers and hospital staff march in several cities throughout the country.
Today is set to follow a similar pattern, with almost all high-speed train services cancelled, most of the Paris Metro system shut down and hundreds of flights set to be axed.
Yves Veyrier, head of the hardline Force Ouvriere union, warned the strike could last at least until Monday if the government did not take the right action.
‘The strike is not going to stop tonight,’ added Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the General Confederation of Labour union, late yesterday evening.
French railway employees are seen near tracks at the deserted Gare de Lyon station in Paris as a public sector strike against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plans was expected to continue today
National train operator SNCF has axed 90 percent of the high-speed TGVs again today and confirmed only 30 percent of regional trains will run
Rush hour traffic fills the ring road in Paris this morning as travel chaos due to a public sector strike was set to continue
A railway employee walks past tracks at the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris as a strike by French public sector workers against the French government’s pensions reform plans was expected to continue today
Empty tracks are seen in Paris this morning after 800,000 people took to the streets in cities across France to protest pension reforms yesterday
A traveller runs to catch a train at the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris on Friday, where 90 per cent of high-speed trains were cancelled
The Gare de Lyon train station in Paris was largely deserted this morning as trains and flights were cancelled across France
National train operator SNCF has axed 90 percent of the high-speed TGVs again today and confirmed only 30 percent of regional trains will run.
On the Paris Metro, 10 lines will remain closed, four will work at a much reduced capacity and only two – the driverless one and 14 – will work normally.
Air France has again cancelled 30 percent of domestic flights. There will also be severe disruptions on the Eurostar, with some two dozen trains scrapped on the cross-Channel route.
National newspapers were unable to publish their print editions, and the CGT union said workers had blocked seven of the country’s eight oil refineries, raising fears of fuel shortages if the strike continues.
Bike paths were packed as commuters turned to bicycles and electric scooters while ride-hailing companies were offering special strike promotions.
Macron’s government has yet to set out its pension plans in full, but is pushing for a single pension scheme which critics say would require everyone to work for longer. The minimum pension age in France is currently 62, one of the lowest among developed countries.
Empty platforms seen at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris on Friday, on the second day of demonstrations in France
Eurostar display boards at St Pancras Station in London today, as some services to Paris, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Brussels were cancelled
The International Departures entrance was largely deserted as severe disruptions were expected to continue on the Eurostar
A demonstrator screams amidst clouds of tear gas as protesters and French Riot Police clashed during a rally near Place de la Republique in support of the national strike in France on Thursday, one of the largest nationwide strikes in years
A protester wearing a ski mask hurls a gas canister back towards the police near the Place de la Republique. Officers were forced to use tear gas to disperse rioters who set fire to a vehicle and smashed windows as tensions heightened close to the square
Police hold their line as protesters launch fireworks at them as demonstrations turn violent during a rally near Place de Republique in support of the national strike in France
Riot police clad in armour and wielding shields and batons move in on demonstrators in Paris on Thursday night as protests continued into the night
A protester hurls a tear gas canister back at officers in Bordeaux on Thursday as demonstrators thronged in the city centre joining hundreds of thousands across the country
Police face off with protesters in the French capital on Thursday as firefighters douse a burning building
Demonstrators set fire to the entrance of a subway station in Paris, as the metro was closed amid rallies in the capital
A pre-school teacher demonstrating in the eastern city of Belfort, Anne Audier-L’Epingle, said she was striking because ‘I don’t know what I will be able to offer two-year-old children when I’m 65.’
As the strikes began on Thursday, authorities in Paris barricaded the presidential palace and deployed some 6,000 police as activists, many in yellow vests, gathered for a major march aimed at forcing Macron to abandon these reform plans.
Officers were forced to use tear gas to disperse rioters who set fire to a vehicle and smashed windows as tensions heightened close to the Place de la Republique square.
A construction trailer was overturned and set on fire, sending a huge plume of smoke into the sky, as hooded youths lit fires, looted high-end stores and hurled fireworks at officers, reports said.
The disruption came a day after President Emmanuel Macron was caught mocking Donald Trump behind his back in a hot mic incident with Boris Johnson and Justin Trudeau at the NATO summit in London.
President Trump cut short his trip to London on Wednesday, branding the Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau ‘two-faced’ after he joked about the time Trump had taken during a press conference.
Macron desperately scrambled out of the diplomatic blunder, telling reporters: ‘I am not going to comment on stolen videos. That video wasn’t supposed to be filmed in that room.’
At least 90 people were arrested in Paris by evening as the protests wound down.
Journalist Mustafa Yalgin had his gas mask shattered (right) and was injured in the eye (left) after French authorities launched a tear gas grenade during a rally in Paris on Thursday
Police in Paris on Thursday as officers deployed tear gas grenades and water cannon when rallies became violent
A man wearing a clown mask waves a smoke bomb as he takes part in a demonstration to protest against the French pension overhauls in Marseille on Thursday
Protesters in black were seen throwing flares at windows and setting fire to cars in the capital
A riot police officer kicks a flare on the ground as demonstrations begin to heat up across Bordeaux, southwestern France
Hundreds of people gather around a fire in the centre of Paris as the strike continued into the night on Thursday
A demonstrator holds a red smoke grenade aloft during a rally on Thursday near the Place de la Republique in the centre of Paris
Protesters hold smoke bombs in the air as they walk through Marseille during protests which took place throughout Thursday
Public and private workers demonstrate while holding smoke bombs and shout slogans during a mass strike in Marseille
Police said 65,000 people took to the streets of the French capital, and over 800,000 nationwide in often-tense demonstrations. Turkish journalist Mustafa Yalgin had his gas mask shattered and suffered injuries to his eye when French authorities launched a tear gas grenade during a rally in Paris on Thursday.
Officers also responded with tear gas and made arrests in Nantes when protesters threw projectiles at officers before the rally in western France had begun.
There were similar scenes in Rennes and Bordeaux, where banks were attacked, and hundreds of rounds of tear gas were used by police.
Transport workers, teachers, postal workers, firefighters, medics and even lawyers were among those who took part in one of the biggest protests of its kind since 1995.
Interior Minister Christopher Castaner had warned that street violence was inevitable. ‘We know that there will be a lot of people in the demonstrations and we know the risks,’ he said on Wednesday.
‘I’ve asked that systematically, as soon as there is disorder, urban rioting, violence, we can react straight away.’
The strikes were specifically aimed at President Macron’s pension reforms, with 245 rallies authorised for Thursday, including an afternoon march in Paris.
A man carries a yellow flag in Marseille, southern France, as rallies across the country began to clash with police on Thursday
Crowds wave the flag of the trade union General Confederation of Labour as they march in Marseille
Men attack the boarded-up shop of a gold buyer during a demonstration against the pension overhauls in Nantes
A demonstrator in a red vest chants slogans near a blaze in Paris as tensions heighten in France
Riot police stand amidst tear gas during clashes at a demonstration against the French government’s pension reform plans in Paris on Thursday
Macron himself remained ‘calm and determined’ to push through the public sector strikes, a presidential source said.
So-called Yellow Vest protesters mobilised for the mass demonstrations, as well as Black Bloc anarchists.
The Yellow Vests, who are named after their trademark bright yellow jackets, have been behind some of the worst rioting in recent history in France.
They have caused millions of pounds worth of damage to Paris monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe, as well as to the shops, banks, restaurants and cafés on the Champs Elysée.
On Thursday, the Louvre warned of strike disruptions, and Paris hotels struggled to fill rooms as tourists cancelled plans to travel to one of the world’s most-visited countries amid the strikes.
Tourists who had travelled to the capital found train stations standing empty, with around nine out of 10 high-speed TGV trains cancelled. French rail operator SNCF added it had cancelled 70 per cent of regional trains for Friday.
A broken electric billboard is seen next to a burning scooter as protesters stand in the street in Paris
Riot police clash with protesters in the street in Paris on Thursday in a major demonstration
People hold placards reading ‘one per cent to the woodshed’ and ‘When will we share wealth’
A French SNCF railway worker on strike holds a flare as he walks at Gare du Nord railway station before a demonstration
Protesters hold a sign reading ‘Let’s Revolt’ as thousands marched through the streets of Paris
Many people across the Paris region (pictured) opted to work from home or take a day off to stay with their children, as 78 per cent of teachers in the capital were on strike
SNCF said services would ‘still be very disrupted’ on the second day of the transport strike, with the Eurostar service to Britain and the Thalys service to northern Europe set to be ‘very heavily disrupted’.
Signs at the Orly Airport in Paris showed ‘cancelled’ notices, as the civil aviation authority announced 20 per cent of flights were grounded on Thursday.
Air France announced it had axed 30 per cent of domestic flights and 15 per cent of short-haul international routes.
In Paris, only a few of the 16 metro lines were operating, and service on the heavily used suburban rail lines crossing the city was severely disrupted.
The strikes also had an impact away from France, as almost 100 Eurostar trains and buses were cancelled from the UK until Tuesday. Easyjet, British Airways and Ryanair also opted to cancel many of their flights to and from France.
Some travellers showed support for the striking workers, but others complained about being caught up in someone else’s fight.
Activists sabotage ‘ecologically catastrophic’ e-scooters in France
Extinction Rebellion on Thursday claimed the sabotage of 3,600 electric scooters in Paris and other French cities, saying the green image of the fashionable gadgets hid an ‘ecologically catastrophic’ reality.
Its action came as thousands of commuters in Paris took to the scooters in a bid to overcome a nationwide strike in France that is expected to paralyse public transport across the country for days.
Extinction Rebellion said it had sabotaged 3,600 scooters, including over 2,000 in Paris as well as in Bordeaux and Lyon, by obscuring the QR codes that riders use to unlock them with their smartphones.
‘Contrary to their reputation as a “soft” or “green” way of getting around, the electric scooters are ecologically catastrophic,’ the group said in a statement on its French Facebook page.
The damage to the scooters was reversible, the group said.
It claimed that using the scooter still involved the emission of some 25 per cent of greenhouses cases that would be emitted if the journey was made by car, and 40 times that of a journey by public transport.
It also argued that studies showed that rather than replacing car journeys, people opt for e-scooters rather than going on foot.
‘I arrived at the airport this morning and I had no idea about the strike happening, and I was waiting for two hours in the airport for the train to arrive and it didn’t arrive,’ said Ian Crossen, from New York. ‘I feel a little bit frustrated. And I’ve spent a lot of money. I’ve spent money I didn’t need to, apparently.’
Vladimir Madeira, a Chilean tourist, said the strike has been ‘a nightmare.’ He hadn’t heard about the protest until he arrived in Paris, and transport disruptions had foiled his plans to travel directly to Zurich on Thursday.
Beneath the closed Eiffel Tower, tourists from Thailand, Canada and Spain echoed these sentiments.
Many people across the Paris region opted to work from home or take a day off to stay with their children, as 78 per cent of teachers in the capital were on strike.
Bracing for possible violence and damage along the route of the Paris march on Thursday, police ordered all businesses, cafes and restaurants in the area to close.
Authorities also issued a ban on protests on the Champs-Elysees avenue, around the presidential palace, parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral.
It is unknown for how long the strikes will last, but Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said yesterday she expected the travel troubles to be just as bad today.
Unions said it is an open-ended movement and they hope to keep up momentum for at least a week in hopes of forcing the government to make concessions.
Public sector workers fear Macron’s reform will force them to work longer and shrink their pensions. Some private sector workers welcome the reform, but others support the strike.
The General Confederation of Labour – the largest trade union in France – said Macron’s pension reforms had triggered mass anger.
A spokesman said: ‘We have one of the best retirement systems in the world, if not the best. However, the president of the Republic decided, because of pure ideology, to annihilate it.’
To Macron, the retirement reform is central to his plan to transform France so it can compete globally in the 21st century. The government argues France’s 42 retirement systems need streamlining.
While Macron respects the right to strike, he ‘is convinced that the reform is needed, he is committed, that’s the project he presented the French in 2017’ during his election campaign, a presidential official said.
After extensive meetings with workers, the high commissioner for pensions is expected to detail reform proposals next week, and the prime minister will release the government’s plan days after that.
The independent Macron came to power in 2017, pledging to shrink France’s public services, and to make the private sector more competitive.
People take part in a demonstration to protest against the pension overhauls, in Montpellier, southern France
It is unknown for how long the strikes will last, but Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said she expects the travel troubles to be just as bad on Friday
Air France announced it had axed 30 per cent of domestic flights and 15 per cent of short-haul international routes (Pictured: protesters in Marseille)
Protesters hold flares into the sky as they demonstrate and shout slogans during a mass strike in Marseille on Thursday
One demonstrator stands on a metro shelter as others block the train lines in Marseille
But Macron is now frequently referred to as the ‘President of the Rich’, who is said to mainly on the side of big businesses.
A CGT spokesman said: ‘Everything about social issues, or about health, is now seen as an expense that needs to be reduced.’
He said that Mr Macron was not showing enough interest in ‘protecting citizens from illness and misery.’
Mr Macron wants to introduce a universal pension system, replacing 42 different schemes currently in place. But the disruption could paralyse the French economy if a resolution is not reached.
A series of public sector general strikes in France in late 1995 saw transportation halted as thousands took to the streets against cuts, including pension reform.
The strikes led to the then conservative President Jacques Chirac and his prime minister Alain Juppé withdrawing their reform plans.
WHAT CAUSED THE STRIKE IN FRANCE?
French public sector workers began a nationwide strike on Thursday over Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform France’s generous pension system, in the biggest challenge to the president since ‘yellow vest’ protests erupted last year.
Railway workers, teachers and emergency room medics were among those joining the industrial action, which threatens to paralyse France for days. Some private sector workers also went on strike over the pension reforms.
Here is what’s at stake:
WHAT DOES MACRON’S PENSION REFORM AIM TO DO?
Macron wants to set up a single points-based pension system in which each day worked earns points for a worker’s future pension benefits.
That would mark a big break from the existing set-up with 42 different sector-specific pension schemes, each with different levels of contributions and benefits. Rail workers, mariners and Paris Opera House ballet dancers can retire up to a decade earlier than the average worker.
Currently pension benefits are based on a worker’s 25 highest earning years in the private sector and the last six months in the public sector.
The president says a points-based system would be fairer and simpler. It would also put pension funding on a sounder footing as the population ages.
At 14 per cent of economic output, French spending on public pensions is among the highest in the world. An independent pension committee forecast the system would run a deficit of more than 17 billion euros (£14.4 billion), 0.7 per cent of GDP, by 2025 if nothing is done.
WHAT ABOUT THE RETIREMENT AGE?
Polls show the French are deeply attached to keeping the official retirement age at 62, which is among the lowest in OECD countries. Public workers who do arduous or dangerous jobs, such as mariners, can leave years earlier.
Macron says the French are going to have to work longer, but is shying away from simply raising the retirement age.
One idea is to keep the 62-year limit, but rein in benefits for those who leave the labour force before 64 and give a benefits boost to those who leave afterwards.
However, the president has indicated he would prefer to focus on the duration of a worker’s career rather than the age at which they stop working.
WHAT IS THE UNIONS’ PROBLEM WITH THE REFORM?
Public sector unions fret that their workers will come out worse because under the current system the state makes up for the chronic shortfall between contributions and payouts in the sector.
Unions also worry they will lose their say on contributions and benefits under a centrally managed points-based system.
They are eager to show they are still relevant after Macron pushed through an easing of the labour code and reform of the state-run SNCF rail operator despite their opposition earlier in his presidency.
IS THERE ROOM FOR COMPROMISE?
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has indicated concessions could be made on when the reform takes effect.
He said he favours a compromise between ‘an immediate and brutal transition’ that would make the reforms applicable to people born after 1963, and a ‘grandfathering’ clause that would impact only people entering the labour market from 2025.
But Philippe says the government will not back down on creating a points-based system, one of Macron’s core election promises.
France’s biggest union, the reform-minded, moderate CFDT, is open to the idea of a points-based system.
The hardline CGT and Force Ouvriere unions, which unlike the CFDT are strongest in the public sector, reject the reform outright and are digging in for a long, hard fight