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Updated: August 17, 2011 15:23 IST

French protests weaken

Vaiju Naravane
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Garbage collectors begin tackling Marseille's reeking mounds of trash in the centre of Marseille, southern France. File photo: AP.
Garbage collectors begin tackling Marseille's reeking mounds of trash in the centre of Marseille, southern France. File photo: AP.

French unions and protesters are staging another day of strikes over the government's pension reform, despite it being passed.

Though the pension and retirement Bill has become law, having been passed by both Houses of Parliament and a joint parliamentary commission, French trade unions continued last ditch efforts to have the law scuttled with demonstrations and strikes across the country.

Though the number of demonstrators failed to reach the millions attained before, the numbers of people out in the street spoke volumes for continuing public anger.

Roughly half of all international flights to France were cancelled on Thursday as a result of industrial action. Train services too were seriously affected. But the agitation is running out of steam with striking refinery workers voting to go back to work, a disappointed and dejected lot.

Fuel blockades, which prompted outages at petrol stations, and the disruption of transportation services during school holidays, have weakened public support for the unions.

France's Socialist party has challenged the reforms by lodging an appeal with the constitutional council. But the review process could take up to a month.

Unions are now saying they intend to keep up the pressure by regularly holding demonstrations on non-working days so as not to penalise workers. They say they will continue their action right up until presidential elections eighteen months away. One of their avowed aims is to oust President Nicolas Sarkozy from his post. The Socialists have promised that in case of an election victory they will roll back the retirement age from 62 to 60.

An adverse ruling by the Constitutional Council on grounds that the law is unconstitutional because it discriminates between categories of workers (certain workers will have to work 44 years to earn a full pension as against 41.3 years for the more educated workers who enter the job market late following university studies), could prove extremely embarrassing for Mr. Sarkozy.

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