By GREG KELLER and SYLVIE CORBET, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — A nationwide strike in France against the government's plan to plug a 20 billion-euro hole in the country's pension system has elicited the equivalent of a Gallic shrug.
The strike called by four unions Tuesday against the Socialist government's proposed reform had almost no impact on traffic across France's rail, bus and subway systems. That is in sharp contrast to the sometimes violent protests that erupted the last time a French government attempted to reform the retirement system.
Several thousand demonstrators marched in Paris and in 180 other towns and cities, but with some moderate unions declining to participate, mobilization withered.
The organizers, including far-left political parties, reject a reform they see as unfair.
"Forty-three years of work for our children, who start working at 25 or 27 years old. They won't retire until they're 68 years old! I really believe it is just unthinkable," said demonstrator Marie-Claude Lecouvreur from Paris.
The French plan would gradually extend the number of years employees must pay contributions to claim a full pension, from 41 years now to 43 years in 2035. The move is one way to force workers to delay their age of retirement. People wishing to draw their pension from the minimum age of 62 need to have that qualifying period, otherwise the funds they get are reduced. By age 67, all French workers are allowed to draw a full pension.
The reform will go through parliament this fall.
In 2010, the previous pension reform raised the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 and led to several mass protests.
French President Francois Hollande has ruled out any radical changes to the generous French pension system. In addition, the reform doesn't touch the privileged deals of certain professions, such as railway workers, who can retire earlier than others.
France spends about 14 percent of its GDP on its state retirement system, compared with 5 percent spent on Social Security in the United States.
Associated Press reporter Sohrab Monemi contributed to this report.
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