Paris: A second nationwide strike disrupted French electricity production, public transport and schools on Tuesday, as workers protested against the government's plans to make people work longer before retirement.
Only a third of high-speed TGV trains were operating and even fewer local and regional trains. The Paris metro was also seriously disrupted, with platforms packed as commuters jostled to catch the few trains available.
At the Concorde metro station, in central Paris, 59-year-old Catherine, a lawyers' assistant, said she did not mind having to wait for a train, or walk instead.
"I support them," she said. "I'll soon be 60, so I'm really not happy with having (to work) two more years." Not all agreed: "There's no point in going on strike. This bill will be adopted in any case," said 34-year old Matthieu Jacquot, who works in the luxury sector.
Half of primary school teachers walked off the job, as did oil refinery staff and public broadcasters, which played music instead of news programmes.
Students blocked Turgot high school in central Paris, holding placard reading "Support to the workers" and "Angry youth." Unions, which have organised rallies across France throughout the day, want to keep up the pressure on the government and are likely to announce yet more industrial action for the coming weeks.
"When there is such a massive opposition, it would be dangerous for the government not to listen," Mylene Jacquot, the secretary general of the CFDT union's civil servants branch, told Reuters.
Opinion polls show most French people, already angry with a cost-of-living crisis fuelled by high inflation, oppose the reform, but President Emmanuel Macron intends to stand his ground. The reform is "vital" to ensure the viability of the pension system, he said on Monday.
The government's plans would see the retirement age raised to 64 from 62 and would also delay the age of eligibility for a full pension.
These measures would yield an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions, according to Labour Ministry estimates.
Unions say there are other ways to raise revenue, such as taxing the super rich or asking employers or well-off pensioners to contribute more.
"This reform is unfair and brutal," said Luc Farre, the secretary general of the civil servants' UNSA union. "Moving (the pension age) to 64 is going backwards, socially." The unions hope to repeat the large turnout seen on the first national day of protest on Jan. 19, when more than a million people took to the streets across France.
French power supply was down by 4.5% or 3 gigawatts (GW), as workers at nuclear reactors and thermal plants joined the strike, data from utility group EDF showed.
Between 75 and 100% of TotalEnergies oil refinery workers are on strike, said CGT unionist Eric Sellini.
TotalEnergies said there was no delivery of petroleum products from its French sites because of the strike, adding that petrol stations were fully supplied and that customers' needs were met.
The government has made some concessions in the draft bill, such as setting the new pensionable age at 64 instead of Macron's campaign pledge of 65, and agreeing to a minimum pension of 1,200 euros a month for all.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne says the 64 threshold is "non-negotiable", but the government is exploring ways to offset some of the impact, in particular on women.