Train stations across France are deserted and the Eiffel Tower is closed as public sector workers went on strike nationwide against President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reforms.

Some 245 demonstrations were held across the country as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in one of the biggest public sector strikes in decades. Public radios played music instead of usual programming.

The strikes extended well beyond public transport workers. French Air Traffic controllers announced strike action, prompting some delays and canceled flights.

Postal services were disrupted, electricity company employees stayed home, and newspaper kiosks had empty shelves as distribution unions refused to ensure supplies.

Meanwhile, schools across the country were closed as an estimated 55% of teachers went on strike. Lawyers, nurses, doctors and police officers also walked off the job.

France Strikes

The unions are protesting plans for sweeping reforms of France’s pension system, which is more than $3 billion in the red and could have a $10 billion deficit by 2025.

Macron has said the system, which includes 42 separate pension funds, is unwieldy and ill-adapted to changing work practices.

He wants a universal system that would see some sectors, including train drivers, lose their current advantages, but offer those who change career paths or work part-time or as self-employed a higher sum on retirement.

France Strikes

The unions say they want the plans scrapped and new negotiations to begin. Groups of so-called black bloc agitators gathered at Place de la République and faced off against armed police who responded with teargas and blocked off exit roads.

Ahead of the unrest, 6,000 police and gendarmes were deployed in the French capital.

Polls show the French are largely behind the protests. One poll shows 69 percent support the strikers, with the strongest backing coming from 18-34-year-olds.

CBS / ABC Flash Point European News 2019.

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