More than a million people marched in France and strikes disrupted transport and schools on Tuesday during mass protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to push back the retirement age to 64.
Union organisers put the figure of the protesters at 3.5 million.
Police used tear gas in Paris and some clashes also took place in the western city of Nantes, but the more than 260 union-organised rallies across the country were mostly peaceful.
Labour leaders had pledged to bring France “to a standstill” on the biggest day of action in a series of stoppages this year — a goal that proved beyond their reach judged by the busy roads of major cities.
Only one in five regional and high-speed trains ran, however, and the Paris metro system operated with a skeletal schedule. Rubbish began piling up in the capital after garbage collectors walked off the job.
“The government has to take (resistance) into account when there are so many people in the street, when they’re having so much trouble explaining and passing their reform,” CFDT union chief Laurent Berger said as she stood at the head of the Paris rally.
The interior ministry said 1.28 million people marched across the country, making it one of the biggest protests in decades and slightly bigger than a previous round of demonstrations on January 31.
It appears unlikely that Tuesday’s protests will influence Macron, 45, who has championed pension reform since coming to power in 2017 in order to tackle deficits forecast for the coming decades.
Analysts see the centrist as determined to press ahead, with parliament set to vote on the draft legislation as early as next week.
On Tuesday evening the unions called for an urgent meeting with Macron.
But they also announced to more days of action, including protests on Saturday.
The government argues that raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, abolishing privileges enjoyed by employees in some sectors, and stiffening the requirements for a full pension are required to balance the pension system.
France lags most of its European neighbours, which have hiked the retirement age to 65 or above.