France enters 'decisive week' as pension protests force crisis


The French government is refusing any compromise over its disputed pension reforms. At the start of what one union leader told Mediapart would be a "decisive week", blockades of fuel depots and motorways were joined by 'rolling' strikes in the transport sector, threatening to bring the country to a standstill. "Jobs will be lost" warned Prime Minister François Fillon while unions retorted he was "playing with provocation".

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The French government offered little hope of a compromise, however slight, over its disputed pension reforms despite growing industrial action and a sixth day of national strikes and protests against the bill on Tuesday.

"This reform must be done, and will be done," commented Labour Minister Eric Woerth, responsible for drawing up the bill, speaking at the weekend.

Meanwhile Prime Minister François Fillon dismissed calls by Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry for a suspension of the passage of the reform bill through the Senate beginning on Wednesday. He promised it will "be carried through to its end" and would be "voted upon" as planned when it is returned to parliament after approval at the upper house.


François Fillon, dimanche soir sur TF1. François Fillon, dimanche soir sur TF1.

The union-led opposition to the reforms, which will raise the minimum retirement age to 62 and the age for qualifying for a full state pension from 65 to 67, has now been joined by strikes and blockages in the transport sector, fuel depots and national education institutions, including hundreds of schools where students have organised demonstrations, several marred by scenes of violence.

Some 2,500 of the 12,000 filling stations across the country declared they had run out of supplies on Monday following the week-long, widespread blockage of oil refineries. Truck drivers began joining the anti-reform protests by blocking motorways near Le Mans and Avignon on Monday.

While unions prepared for a show of force in the sixth day of national street demonstrations on Tuesday, when many public sector activities, notably transport services, will be affected by strike action, M. Fillon stood firm in his refusal to compromise over the reforms.

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