French Strikers Take To The Streets Again Protests in France against a government plan to change the retirement system have become more heated. Unions are protesting a proposal to raise the minimum retirement age by two years. But not everyone opposes the plan, and the issue is dividing France.

French Strikers Take To The Streets Again

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


In France, protesters are out in the streets again today. They're demonstrating against a plan to revamp the retirement system. Nearly half the flights into Paris have been cancelled because of airport strikes. Walkouts in other strategic industries are causing chaos around the country. Eleanor Beardsley reports on the challenges facing President Nicolas Sarkozy.


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Meanwhile, the streets of Marseille are filling up with garbage and dozens of oil tankers are stuck at sea waiting for the port to reopen. There is the feeling that things are getting seriously out of control in France. Francois Bayrou is head of centrist political party Modum.

FRANCOIS BAYROU: (Through translator) The situation is more dangerous than we've seen in several years. The truckers, plus the blocked oil refineries, plus the empty gas stations, plus the high school students, it's creating a risky situation that may become more radical.

BEARDSLEY: Over the weekend, more than a million people marched in the streets nationwide. One uniting factor was their contempt for the president.

JEANNE BAUDRY: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Demonstrators also say the retirement reform is unfair because the working class is being asked to bear the brunt of the burden. And there are other reasons for the resistance to the reform, says Bernard Vivier, who heads a think tank on social and labor issues.

BERNARD VIVIER: In France, we are very conservative people. It's our history. And we think that because we are a rich country, a country with a great history, we have no need to change. And the world will change. Not us.

BEARDSLEY: In front of a high school in Paris's 8th arrondissement, young members of Sarkozy's party try to dissuade students from blocking their school this week. Some of the students admit they want to protest to get out of class, but others seem genuinely concerned about the reform.

PIERRE HENRI DUMOND: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Pierre Henri Dumond, one of the leaders of the Sarkozy youth movement, is talking to several students. He tries to dispel a widely-held notion here that if older people work longer, that will mean fewer jobs for young people.

HENRI DUMOND: We do have some success here. You know, it's very important for us just to come, to explain the reform. I think they are misinformed mainly.

BEARDSLEY: Far from the protest movement, 65-year-old Alain David sweeps up in his butcher shop. Despite recent polls that show a large majority of French people support the strikers, David says most French people know things have to change.

ALAIN DAVID: (Through translator) I'm very angry against the unions who are manipulating people. France has a huge deficit and if we don't reform our retirement system, we're going straight into a wall.

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR news, Paris.

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