Factbox: French protests test government reforms

(BestGrowthStock) – Striking public sector workers disrupted travel in France on Tuesday and protesters hit the streets en masse as trade unions tested President Nicolas Sarkozy over his unpopular pension reforms.

Tuesday is the sixth day of nationwide strikes and protests against the reform since June and a last challenge to Sarkozy before a final Senate vote slated for this week on the bill. French militancy over policy has been vociferous for years. Here are details on some previous protests in the last four decades:

* 1968:

— Sparked by a dispute over visiting rights to a female students’ dormitory, the protests over university reforms and wider personal liberties led to three weeks of riots and sit-ins in the streets around the main Paris university, the Sorbonne.

— The crisis, which blew up into a general strike that paralyzed the country, was so serious that then President Charles de Gaulle made checks to ensure the army would be ready to intervene if needed. The riots eventually led to the downfall of de Gaulle following a referendum defeat a year later.

* 1995:

— Striking public service workers staged a massive show of strength across France in December and trade union leaders said conservative Prime Minister Alain Juppe had no choice but to shelve disputed welfare reforms.

— The strikes forced Juppe to scrap a plan to restructure the indebted state SNCF rail company and back down on his aim to pare back public sector pension schemes. The strikes damaged the government which went on to lose power in 1997.

* 2003:

— Well over a million people took to the streets in protest against plans to make public sector workers pay into the pension system for the same length of time as private sector employees and eventually shift everyone to 42 years of pension contributions.

— France was hit by a wave of nationwide strikes in June against the plans. Transport unions hobbled rail and train services and grounded most international flights. The reforms were meant to counter a funding crunch as the postwar “baby boom” generation retires.

* 2005:

— France’s conservative government imposed a state of emergency in early November to help quell rioting by youths in rundown suburbs. The unrest began after two youngsters accidentally died while apparently fleeing police in Paris and quickly escalated into youth protests over unemployment and poverty. In the three weeks of rioting that followed, youths clashed with police in many parts of France. Some 9,000 cars and several schools were set ablaze.

* 2006:

— France’s ruling conservatives used their parliamentary majority in April to rush through a bill killing off a youth labor contract that provoked two months of street protests and undermined the government.

— President Jacques Chirac agreed to scrap the “easy hire, easy fire” law in a humiliating climbdown hailed as a victory for a protest movement which brought millions of students onto the streets backed by public sector strike action.

* 2007:

— National train services and public transport in Paris were disrupted in days of protests over government plans to end early retirement privileges.

— The dispute handed Sarkozy his biggest challenge since taking office in May on a pledge of sweeping change.

* 2009:

— Up to 3 million protesters took to the streets of France on March 19 in a second round of strikes and rallies called to denounce Sarkozy’s handling of the economic crisis.

(Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit;)

Factbox: French protests test government reforms