National strike against pension reform cripples services in France

Hundreds of labor demonstrations involving thousands of workers crippled services throughout France Thursday in a broad-based national strike that opposes planned pension reforms that push people to work longer before retirement.

Public and private workers demonstrate in Marseilles, France, on Thursday during a national strike against proposed pension reforms. Photo by Guillaume Horacajuelo/

The strike could ultimately include millions of French workers from the education, medical, law enforcement, transportation and legal sectors. The organized strike opposes reforms by French President Emmanuel Macron that would fiscally penalize French workers who retire before age 64.

A majority of the Metro underground transport lines in Paris were not operating Thursday, 90 percent of the country’s high-speed intercity trains were idled and at least half of French teachers were not in the classroom as unions coordinated their actions to launch the strike.

Traffic in Paris was far below its normal weekday level Thursday as commuters turned to bicycles and electric scooters to get around. The Eurostar rail line connecting Paris and London canceled many trains at least until Monday, while around 20 percent of all flights into and out of France were canceled as air-traffic controllers joined the work stoppage.

It’s unclear how long the strike could last, but the transport unions covering the Parisian public transit system and SNCF long-distance trains said they’re planning for an open-ended work stoppage.

Coming amid a mood of social crisis and after months of anti-government “Yellow Vest” protests, the strike is the latest challenge against Macron’s efforts to reform France’s social and welfare systems, with some analysts calling this a decisive point of his presidency.

After overhauling the country’s labor rules and making changes to the unemployment system, Macron’s reforms aim to introduce a universal pension scheme to replace the current patchwork of separate systems. As reflected by Thursday’s strike, however, it has drawn significant opposition.

The proposed reforms award pension points for every year worked. Those who retire before the age of 64 would receive less money than those who work beyond that age. A person who retires at age 63 under the plan, for example, would receive 5 percent less pension money.

The French president argues the new system would be more fair and more resilient as France’s retirement age population expands. Opponents contend it would mean workers in both the public and private sectors would have to work at least a couple years beyond the legal retirement age of 62 to avoid a sharp drop-off in their pension values.

ByDon Jacobson