France grinds to halt as thousands protest at change to retirement age

A colossal turnout for nationwide protests against pension reform yesterday threatened President Nicolas Sarkozy with a long winter of discontent if he pushes ahead with plans to increase the French retirement age from 60 to 62.

Trades unions comfortably exceeded their target of mobilising two million people on the streets as a nationwide strike disrupted transport, schools, government offices and parts of the media.

In Paris, the demonstration was so large – an estimated 270,000 people or twice the numbers of the last protest in June – that the march had to be split into two halves. More than 100 marches across the country attracted 2.5million people, according to union estimates.

Nor was it just a question of numbers. The Paris protest went far beyond the usual marching tribes of the trades unions and the Left. There were also tens of thousands of middle-class and middle-aged protesters from white-collar jobs and the teaching and medical professions.

Unlike the Tube strikes in London, yesterday's protests had the support of the great majority of French people. More than 70 per cent, according to the latest polls, believe that the unions and the Left are right to oppose Mr Sarkozy's plan to increase the basic retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018.

It was clear from yesterday's Paris march that other controversies surrounding the President have stoked a sense of righteous anger, especially on the Left, and strengthened the anti-pension reform movement.

For once, the banners and effigies carried by demonstrators did not focus entirely on Mr Sarkozy. Popular butts of derision also included the employment minister, Eric Woerth, and France's wealthiest woman, the L'Oréal heiress, Liliane Bettencourt.

Mr Woerth, who is also the main architect of the pensions reforms, is enmeshed in a tangle of allegations that he sought illegal funding from Ms Bettencourt for Mr Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign.

Joaquim, 53, a middle manager in the car industry, marching in yesterday's demonstration,said: "There is now a feeling that, under Sarkozy, things have gone much too far. People are sick of seeing the rich being allowed to get away with everything while we are expected to give up the rights we have won over many years."

François Courton, 80, a retired manager from the Paris city roads department, said that he was there "for the younger people". "If people don't retire at 60, where are the jobs for the young to come from?"

A first reading of the pension reform was introduced to the national assembly last night amid angry scenes. Communist members distributed a petition against the reform while government members shouted "Stalinists".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss