| A demonstrator with a placard reading: “The Raffarin virus attacks every body” in Massena square, Nice. (AFP)
Paris, May 13 (Reuters): Workers throughout France staged strikes against government plans to overhaul the state pension system today, crippling air and rail traffic and forcing schools to close in the biggest protest for years.
Aviation officials estimated that four in five flights were grounded while state railway company SNCF cancelled two-thirds of its mainline services as workers left their jobs to join over 100 so-called “Black Tuesday” demonstrations across France.
Kiosks were bare as newspaper distribution was paralysed and the country suffered a 10 per cent loss in electricity output as power workers joined protests against the government’s plan to make people pay more and longer into pension schemes.
However, car firms Renault and PSA Peugeot Citroen — targeted by unions to get private sector workers to join protesters from the public sector — reported no major impact on their output as the protests there appeared patchy.
The strike turn-out could decide whether Centre-Right Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin pushes ahead with the reforms, waters them down or ditches them as President Jacques Chirac’s last conservative government did after a wave of unrest in 1995.
“This is an important day of course, but also a new chance for us to explain, explain, explain,” government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said after Raffarin met ministers.
“Today, no one contests the necessity of reforms,” said civil service minister Jean-Paul Delevoye, echoing Raffarin’s view that France is ready for painful welfare and labour reforms made by countries like Britain in the 1980s.
Raffarin’s popularity appears unbruised by the dispute, with a poll on the daily Liberation’s website today putting his support at 51 per cent — up one percentage point from April.