More than 200 miles of roads in and around Paris were reported to be clogged with traffic jams Friday as a general strike aimed at President Emmanuel Macron‘s plans to overhaul the country’s pension system continues to wreak havoc on commuters and tourists.
For a second straight day, subway stations surrounding the Eiffel Tower and other attractions remained shut down, leaving visitors scrambling for ways to get around one of the world’s most popular travel destinations.
“I arrived in Paris today, but I have been stuck for around two hours just trying to find a bus or a train,” Zaeen Shoii, a tourist from Pakistan, told the Associated Press. “But everything has been delayed, so I’m just waiting for the next bus now.”
And the travel disruptions aren’t expected to go away anytime soon as unions on strike are standing firm in their opposition to Macron.
“We’re going to protest for a week at least, and at the end of that week it’s the government that’s going to back down,” Patrick Dos Santos, a transportation employee, told Reuters.
A man stands on a traffic light during a demonstration in Paris on Thursday. (AP)
Macron’s idea is to unify France’s 42 different pension schemes into a single one, giving all workers the same general rights. So-called special regimes, linked to certain professions like train drivers, allow workers to get early retirement or other benefits.
But the reform also is aimed at saving money, and teachers are among many who worry it will leave them with less money at the end of their careers.
At least 800,000 people marched across France on Thursday in opposition to the reforms, as the strike shuttered schools and some public services and disrupted hospitals and refineries.
A massive march that was held in Paris started peacefully before some protesters engaged in clashes with police, who responded by firing volleys of tear gas. Other demonstrators were spotted hurling flares, smashing store windows and setting fires in eastern Paris.
Riot police officers secure an area as some demonstrators were seen smashing store windows, setting fires and hurling flares in eastern Paris Thursday. (AP)
Police arrested 71 people in the French capital Thursday and clashes were also reported in the cities of Nantes, Bordeaux, and Rennes, according to the BBC.
As of Friday morning, more than 217 miles of roads in and around Paris were snarled with traffic jams, the station adds. More than half of the city’s 16 subway lines remain shut down and dozens of flights from the city’s major airports have been canceled or delayed.
Macron’s government has been negotiating with unions and others for months about the reforms but won’t release the details of the proposed changes until next week. The government says it will keep the official retirement age at 62, but the plan is expected to encourage people to work longer.
People fill the streets during a demonstration in Paris on Thursday.
The uncertainty about what the plan will entail is feeding public worry. Polls suggest most French people support the strike and protest movement, at least for now, in hopes it pushes the government to pay more heed to workers’ worries.
Some seven in 10 French employees work in the private sector, and the strikes are primarily in the public sector. But the retirement changes will affect everyone, and the demonstrations have included private-sector workers, too.
Commuters and parents struggling to get to work and school Friday had mixed feelings about the strikes and the reform.
“I understand, striking is a constitutional right but there should at least be a partial (subway) service,” Mira Ghaleni told the Associated Press as she tried to get her son to school in eastern Paris. “It’s really a disaster for the people, and the politicians should do something because we really had enough. One day, it’s OK, but I think it will last longer.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.