Students up protests over French retirement reform

Third day of stir hits rail service, oil refineries

Students up protests over French retirement reform

While the striking students won’t reach retirement age for decades, the government is keeping a close eye on how their protests play out. Students have brought down major government reforms in the past and student actions have degenerated into violence.

The country’s main university and high school student unions called for nationwide protests Thursday, including in front of France’s main employers’ lobby, Medef, hoping to carry the momentum of the movement against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s push to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. The students and labor unions see the pension reform as an attack on hard-earned social protections.

Sarkozy has stuck firmly by the reform despite this week’s protests. The governing conservatives say it is the only way to save the money-losing pension system in a country with a huge budget deficit and sluggish growth. It’s a problem governments across Europe are facing, and France’s retirement age even with the reform would remain one of the lowest in the rich world.

Schools disrupted

By midday Thursday, 345 high schools were blockaded or otherwise disrupted by the strikes, or nearly 8 per cent of high schools nationwide, according to the Education Ministry. That was up from 135 on Wednesday and 357 on Tuesday.

Universities were also seeing disruptions. The University of Rennes-2 in western France was closed all day “for security reasons” amid student rallies, the university administration announced.

While Paris transit workers were mostly back on the job after strikes earlier this week, the workers of SNCF rail authority continued their walk out for a third day, disrupting TGV and local train traffic. About 20 per cent of train employees were on strike Thursday.

Workers at oil giant Total’s six French refineries kept up their protest, and in a statement Wednesday union leaders there said “not one drop of oil” has been produced at the Total plants since Tuesday morning.

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