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French trade unions begin second round of strikes

A second round of national strikes this month to pressure the government to revisit its pension reform scheme is likely to have little effect on the plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, but the trade unions have vowed to keep up the fight in the hope of at least gaining a few concessions.

Though the strikes disrupted air travel, local and national transport, postal service and schools, the impasse between the government and the country’s powerful trade unions remained. The government has said it will go ahead with the reforms deemed necessary to address a large deficit in the pension scheme as people live a lot longer.

Divisions among the unions over how to continue adding pressure to the government were also beginning to surface, according to a blog entry in Le Figaro newspaper.

The National Assembly has already passed the pension reform bill with the provision to increase the retirement age. The age at which a person can collect a full pension will increase from 65 to 67. The bill must now go to the Senate for debate. The unions are hoping to conduct more actions in the coming weeks, including additional strikes in October, though the exact dates are not yet agreed upon. Some weekend dates are being considered in order to draw crowds from the both the public and private sector.

According to a public opinion poll by IFOP, 70 percent of French citizens found the latest action justified. A poll by left leaning paper Liberation revealed two-thirds of French found the proposed reforms were “unfair.” Protesters were uniting under slogans likes: “Contribute more to gain less” “Young people in hell, old people in destitution,” the paper said.

Between 1 million and 2 million people took to the streets nationwide on Sept. 7 for the first round of strikes just as most people were starting to stream back to school and work from their summer breaks for "la rentree." More than 200 rallies across the country were then timed to coincide with a parliamentary debate led by Labor Minister Eric Woerth. The unions were hoping the same amount returned today.

In Paris, the procession departed Place de la Bastille and included thousands of people joining to express their discontentment with government. Many wore stickers with the slogan made famous by President Nicolas Sarkozy when he was caught on camera telling a man to “sod off” at an agricultural fair.

Parisians in southern Paris hung from their balconies to watch the procession that included students marching under their school banners to infants being pushed in strollers. Other slogans of solidarity included “Let’s work together for another political system” and “Working more to gain more.” One woman’s sign was more poignant: weapon of mass destruction at the voting booth in 2012, an obvious reference to the next presidential election.

From Paris to Provence, some 232 protests rallies were expected to take place around the country, according to news reports.