France is braced for a transport strike seen as the opening salvo of a larger battle between the government and unions over pension reforms.
Stoppages have already begun in some places and the action is expected to cause chaos nationwide tomorrow.
At stake is one of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s key policies. But previous governments have tried and failed to push through painful reforms.
Sarkozy said he understood public fears but that he was elected “to reform and modernise France”.
The president is boosted by research showing
public opinion firmly in favour of a shake-up of the so-called special pensions regimes. These are enjoyed by a minority and were designed to reward
workers in arduous jobs or those involved in the post-war rebuilding effort.
The special regimes allow the beneficiaries to retire after just 37.5 years of work rather than 40 years for most other pensions. The companies involved are hugely in debt.
If it wins this battle the government has made it clear it will consider overhauling the entire
pensions system, possibly requiring people to work for 41 years. But unions are determined to show Sarkozy the labour movement is still a force to be reckoned with.