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Thousands strike in France over pension reforms

By the CNN Wire Staff

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French workers take to the streets
  • Workers are staging a one-day strike across the country
  • More than 200 demonstrations are also planned
  • Not everyone walks off the job
  • Train service is reduced

Paris, France (CNN) -- Thousands of workers across France staged a one-day strike Tuesday to protest government plans to raise the retirement age.

More than 200 demonstrations were planned throughout the country Tuesday to coincide with the walkout.

Workers from both the public and private sectors were on strike, including those in transportation, education, justice, hospitals, media, and banking.

The strike, planned since June, is a reaction to government pension reforms aimed at raising the age of retirement to 62. The maximum retirement age is currently at 60, though some people in hardship posts may retire earlier, depending on the job.

More than a dozen unions and federations called for workers to strike Tuesday, though not everyone walked off the job. The Ministry of Education, for example, said only 30 percent of their sector is affected.

The strike also led to a reduction in train services.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's planned reforms have angered many in France.

Among them is postal worker Isabelle Alouges, who has delivered the mail for 30 years. She had been planning to retire next year when she turns 55, but if the reforms become law, she may have to work until age 60 or beyond in order to earn a full pension.

An official from her union, PTT Sud, says postal workers feel betrayed because they are being made to pay by working longer when the government could fix France's ballooning pension plan deficits by imposing more taxes on the rich.

"My feeling is one of unfairness because there is a bad sharing of national wealth," Nicko Galapides told CNN. "That's the thing -- unfairness."

Pension reform is likely to be a defining moment in Sarkozy's presidency. There have already been repeated national strikes and demonstrations over the reforms and it has unified the opposition like no other previous issue.

One of Sarkozy's top aides said over the weekend that while there is some flexibility on the details, the fundamentals of pension reform must be enacted, since increasing life expectancy increases the financial burden on the pension system.

Complicating things for the government are Sarkozy's poor approval ratings, which over the summer hit the lowest point of his presidency.

"There is a kind of antipathy against Nicolas Sarkozy at the moment," said Guillaume Petit, of the polling agency TNS Sofres. "His approval rating is very low. We have just 30 percent of French opinon trusting him as a president. This is very low for a president."

Last month, polling agencies sent another political wakeup call when polls for the first time indicated that several French politicians could beat Sarkozy if he runs for re-election in 2012.

CNN's Niki Cook and Jim Bittermann contributed to this report.