By Dalal Mawad, Aurore Laborie, Oliver Briscoe and Joshua Berlinger,
Paris— French transport networks, oil refineries and schools were hit by widespread disruption Thursday as workers staged a national strike to protest an increase in the retirement age that was pushed through parliament without a vote.
Though sporadic demonstrations had popped up in Paris and other cities after the French government forced the bill through last week, Thursday marked the first day of coordinated action since then. It is the ninth day of strikes since the bill was introduced in January.
Only two out of 14 metro lines in Paris were operating a normal service. RER train services, which run in the city and its suburbs, were severely reduced and only half of high-speed TGV trains were working. The nationwide strike has also affected air traffic, with 30% of flights impacted at Paris Orly airport.
Unionized workers blockaded a major oil refinery in Normandy and another one in Fos-sur-Mer in the south of France, according to a government spokesperson.
“We are intervening in a targeted manner to unblock oil storage tanks that are blocked by demonstrators,” the minister of energy transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacherin, said in a statement.
“If the strike is a fundamental constitutional right, blockading is not one… The police is mobilized in difficult conditions and has my full support.”
The government’s plan to raise the retirement age for most workers by two years was opposed by huge numbers of people. But despite protests that drew more than a million people onto streets across the country, President Emmanuel Macron’s government did not back down. It rammed the legislation through the French National Assembly last week using a constitutional clause that allows the government to bypass a vote.
The country’s generous pension system and early retirement have been a point of pride since they were enacted after World War II. Under the new law, the retirement age for most workers will be 64, still one of the lowest in the industrialized world.