ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In France today, strikes and protests across the country brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets. Protesters want the government to cancel its plan to reform the nation's retirement system. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has the latest.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST AMBIENCE)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in French).
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Unions say 350,000 people protested in Paris today, and they weren't just train drivers and other industrial workers. There were teachers, lawyers, hospital workers and even opera singers.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in French).
BEARDSLEY: They belted out arias from the steps of the Bastille Opera House. Under the current system, Paris opera performers have their own retirement scheme. It's one of 42 separate retirement systems that French President Emmanuel Macron wants to simplify into one. Singer Claire Servian says she fears performers' special circumstances won't be considered in the new structure.
CLAIRE SERVIAN: The main problem is that you cannot expect people to sing really, really well as we do now when they're 67 years old or 70 years old.
BEARDSLEY: While the minimum retirement age remains 62, under the new rules, a full pension can only be drawn at 64.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER EDOUARD PHILIPPE: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: In a nationwide address, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe assured the French that the system would be more fair and even take into account the interrupted careers of women having children. But high school teacher Valerie Charonnat says no one in the streets today believes him.
VALERIE CHARONNAT: The teachers belong to the group of people, of workers, who are going to lose most money among all the French workers. Some of us are going to lose up to - well, between 300 and 900 euros a month.
BEARDSLEY: Discontent in the streets goes beyond retirement. People accused Macron of acting like a king and held placards of him wearing a crown. They chanted left-wing slogans and songs glorifying workers fighting capitalist bosses. It almost felt like another era. Retired computer engineer Alain Dupont says Macron wants to take away everything the French have fought for.
ALAIN DUPONT: (Through interpreter) We're not duped. If he touches our retirement, he's going to go after health care next. He wants to unravel the whole French social support system.
BEARDSLEY: The government is hoping to split the more moderate unions from the hardliners in talks tomorrow.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in French).
BEARDSLEY: For today, at least, the unions were united in their opposition to Macron's plan.
Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.
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