French Government Debates Reforms as Unions Ponder More Strikes

21 October 2010
French Government Debates Reforms as Unions Ponder More Strikes
Photo: AFP
A young man throws a bottle against anti riot police, 21 October 2010, during clashes in Lyon, southern France, during a demonstration to protest against the pensions reform.

Unrest continues in France as the government debates a reform to France's retirement system that has sparked more than a week of action targeting transport. Demonstrators blocked access to Marseille airport and continue to block fuel depots halting gas supplies.

Government plan

France's Labor minister, Eric Woerth spelled out the financial benefits of the government's retirement reform program to the Senate. He outlined the billions of Euros that will be saved, saying that is essential in today's economy to address France's deficit.

The proposal to raise the retirement age by two years, to 62, has sparked mass protests, including a day of demonstrations last Tuesday that brought at least a million people onto the streets, the unions that called the strikes claim 3.5 million demonstrated. Another day of mass action could come next week.

Helene Puyrigaud has been protesting with others, outside the French Senate, which is debating the law. She says every day the demonstrations will continue until they have won.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has appealed for calm as some protests have turned violent.

Fuel shortage

Nearly a quarter of French gas stations are without fuel because of the blockade of refineries and fuel depots, and there has been some panic buying. Pressure is increasing to get the gas supplies back to normal before Friday, which marks the start of school breaks when many French travel.

Analysts say the protests are about more than just retirement reform, and reflect the public's discontent with the president. Polls show Mr. Sarkozy's popularity at an all-time low a year and a half before elections.

Pop singer Lady Gaga cancelled her weekend concerts in Paris, over concerns that trucks carrying stage equipment and other necessities may not be able to reach the concert venue.