As French Strikes Continue, Unions Take Aim At Sarkozy

(Source : csmonitor) Public strikes continued across France today, albeit at a lower level than the walkouts and marches Tuesday, as labor leaders and left wing politicians continue to push a carefully crafted strategy they hope will permanently weaken French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The protests, which began last month, are largely over Mr. Sarkozy's plan to raise the retirement age. But the French left is hoping to use the protests as a launching pad for rolling back much of the increasingly unpopular president's agenda. Rallies of nearly 2 million French and crippling walkouts yesterday by energy and transport workers amplified opposition sentiment in France – even as Prime Minister Francois Fillon vowed to move ahead with reforms that would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 in order to combat budget deficits. Sarkozy, in a cabinet meeting this morning, said: "It is our duty to carry out this reform and so we will achieve it completely.” Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry meanwhile warned: “The confrontation between the country and the government could get worse.” France has one of the most generous pension plans in Europe. But with a pension deficit at nearly $55 billion annually – and in an era of austerity cuts across the continent – the Sarkozy government has moved to head off a possible collapse of the system. In late spring, Sarkozy rolled over the unions in pushing pension reform schemes as part of austerity measures. But the French Left is banking on a precipitous decline in Sarkozy’s popularity this summer – polls shows 70 percent disapproval – to create a political crisis that will derail the president’s ambition to be reelected in 2012.