French police have scuffled with protesters in Paris and used tear gas and water cannon in the western city of Nantes as strikes broke out across France in a challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms.
Train conductors, teachers and air traffic controllers walked out on Thursday to join more than 150 mostly peaceful marches in various cities and towns – the first time public sector workers have joined rail staff in protests since Macron came to office in May.
Sixty percent of fast trains, 75 percent of inter-city trains and 30 percent of flights to and from Paris airports were cancelled because of the strike.
About 13 percent of teachers walked off their job, the education ministry said, closing many primary schools.
Electricity generation dropped by more than three gigawatts, the equivalent of three nuclear reactors, as those workers joined the strike, stoking government fears that the work stoppages could spread.
Public sector workers are angry with plans to cut the public sector headcount by 120,000 by 2022, including via voluntary redundancies, and about the introduction of merit-based pay.
Railway workers are worried by government plans to scrap job-for-life guarantees, automatic annual pay rises and generous early retirement.
“Discontent and worry are spreading very quickly,” said Jean-Marc Canon of UGFF-CGT, one of the largest unions.
While rail workers have planned a three-month rolling strike starting April 3, public sector workers have no plans yet for further action, but they will meet next week to consider it.
“Let me tell you that public sector workers are very mobilized,” Laurent Berger, the head of France’s largest union, the CFDT, told RTL radio.
Opinion polls show a paradox: a majority of voters back the strike but an even bigger majority back the reforms, including cutting the number of public sector workers and introducing merit-based pay.
Police fired tear gas and water cannon at a group of hooded protesters who were hurling stones at them in Nantes.
The rest of the morning rally in Nantes was peaceful, with protesters marching behind a banner that read “All together against austerity, let’s defend public services.”
In Paris, police reported scuffles with young protesters ahead of rallies in the city, with a few shop windows damaged.