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More than a million French workers strike against pension reform

National demonstrations are taking place against French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age to 64.

An estimated 1.28 million people have taken part in a nationwide strike against French President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age to 64, according to the Interior Ministry.

The figure suggests the demonstrations were some of the largest in decades, slightly exceeding the 1.27 million estimated in an earlier round of protests against the reform on January 31.

The far-left trade union CGT estimated the number of demonstrators at 3.5 million.

Across the country, many protest rallies drew more people than previous ones organized since mid-January, including in Marseille, one of France’s largest cities, authorities and local media said.

There were some clashes on the fringes of the Paris rally and police said 22 people had been arrested.

France’s nationwide strike, which disrupted train services, closed schools and halted fuel deliveries on Tuesday, will run into Wednesday as unions step up their campaign to force a U-turn on a deeply unpopular policy.

This is a critical time for both sides as Macron’s government hopes his plan to raise the retirement age by two years will be passed by parliament by the end of the month.

French gendarmes in riot gear on the sixth day of nationwide rallies organized since the beginning of the year against the French president’s pension reform (Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP)

To put pressure on lawmakers, France’s tougher unions said this time there would be successive strikes that could last for days, at least in some sectors.

The CGT union said workers had voted to extend strikes at all TotalEnergies sites.

“The real fight starts now,” said Marin Guillotin, FO union representative at the Donges refinery in western France.

“We have not been heard or listened to. We are using the only tool we have left: it is the hard attack… we are not giving up.”

Trains will continue to be disrupted on Wednesday, as will the Paris metro system, albeit to a slightly lesser extent than on Tuesday, the SNCF and RATP transport companies that run them said.

Truck drivers and garbage collectors had joined the strike on Tuesday as it spread across more sectors.

Macron’s proposal to let people work longer is deeply unpopular with the general public, according to opinion polls.

The government insists that its reform plan is essential to ensure that the pension system does not collapse.

The government also says that the pensions of the poorest 30 percent of the population will rise by 2.5 to 5 percent.

Unions say small premium increases can keep the pension system solvent. They say the proposed measures are unfair and would disproportionately affect low-skilled workers in grueling jobs who start their careers early.