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France

Workers strike in protest at rising retirement age

Video by Shirli SITBON

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-06-25

Hundreds of thousands of French workers took part in a 24-hour nationwide strike on Thursday to vent their anger at government plans to tackle a budget deficit by raising the retirement age from 60 to 62.

REUTERS - French unions staged nationwide strikes on Thursday and hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets to protest against plans to raise the retirement age to 62, throwing down the gauntlet to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

 
Bernard Thibault, the head of France's largest CGT union, estimated that at least two million protestors had joined some 200 rallies across the country and said this would pile pressure on the government to revise its contested pension reform.
 
"This draft bill will not get passed in its current form. The workers have decided to take to the streets in large numbers to prevent the text from getting passed," he said as he headed the main, sun-soaked rally through eastern Paris.
 
France 24's Aurore Dupuis reports on the strikes from Paris, France
Unions estimated 130,000 people attended the main Paris rally while police put the turnout at 47,000.
 
Police estimates of the number of demonstrators across France were not immediately available, but the turnout appeared to be greater than the last such protest in May when unions said one million people took part.
 
Sarkozy's government has vowed not to back down on the centrepiece of its reform -- lifting the age of retirement to 62 from 60 by 2018 -- saying the move was needed to prevent the pension system from going bust and sinking state finances.
 
But unions have succeeded in torpedoing previous attempts to overhaul state pensions and have pinned their hopes on massive support of their day of action to force a government retreat.
 
Thousands of transport workers walked off the job, hitting train, plane, metro and bus services, while civil servants, teachers and some private sector staff also went on strike.
 
"We are all in the same boat," said Jean-Luc Mariano, a docker who joined a march in the port city of Marseille.
 
"It is already hard enough working at the age of 56 in the docks. To add yet more years to that means we will never get to enjoy our retirement," he added.
 
There was no immediate government comment on the protests.
 
 
 
CHALLENGING A TABOO
 
The government unveiled its planned overhaul of the pay-as-you-go pensions regime last week, saying that without major changes the system would run up annual deficits of 100 billion euros ($134.2 billion) by 2050.
 
Although a retirement age of 62 is still lower than in many of France's neighbours, it breaks a significant taboo in a country where many see retirement at 60 -- introduced by a Socialist government in 1983 -- as their right.
 
The SNCF national rail service said nearly 40 percent of its employees had gone on strike, while the education ministry said 20 percent of teachers took part and state energy company EDF reported that 16 percent of its workers had joined the dispute.
 
France's unions say Thursday's demonstrations will be a foretaste of the mass protests they plan for September when the reform is due to go to parliament for approval.
 
Sarkozy has spent considerable political capital on the pension drive, which is likely to be the government's last big reform before his expected re-election bid in 2012.
 
He has promised to keep up dialogue with unions and has not ruled out possible changes to parts of the reform, but has made clear he will not back down on retirement at 62.
 
The opposition Socialist party has said it will overturn the reform should it win power in 2012.
 
A poll by BVA showed that two French people out of three supported the union protests but a survey, carried out by Ifop for Le Figaro daily on Wednesday, said 58 percent supported the idea of lifting the retirement age.

 

Date created : 2010-06-24

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