Trains halted, schools shut in France as unions seek to block pension reform

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Most trains came to a halt, oil refineries were blocked and power production reduced in France on Tuesday as unions organised a sixth day of nationwide strikes against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plans.

Opinion polls have for weeks shown that a majority of voters reject the reform, which would raise the pension age by two years to 64 among other measures, but the government intends to stand its ground and carry out the plans it says are essential to ensure the pension system does not go bust.

“I can understand that not many people want to work two more years, but it’s necessary to ensure the viability of the system,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told France 5 TV.

Unions says they would increase pressure to try and convince lawmakers not to vote for the reforms, adding that rolling strikes, particularly at oil refineries and on the railways, could be prolonged over several days.

Eric Sellini, a CGT union representative at Total Energies told Reuters that a strike currently completely blocking the Gonfreville refinery in Normandy was slated to run until Thursday and at the Donges refinery in western France until Friday.

“We’re not giving up. Today we’re going to put more than 2 million people on the street, I am convinced of it,” the head of FO union,  Frédéric Souillot, told RTL radio.

“We will continue until the reform is withdrawn.” Rallies are planned across France after more than 1.27 million people took part in previous protests on January 31. “Together, let’s bring France to a halt!,” the country’s main unions says in a joint statement.