France on shutdown as pension strikes halt trains, shut schools and hit Eiffel Tower

A nationwide strike brought much of France to a halt on Thursday as unions kicked off a massive protest against a pension overhaul by President Emmanuel Macron, which they say will force millions of people to work longer or face curtailed benefits.

Most schools were closed or only assuring daycare services, forcing many parents to find alternatives or stay home from work as trains, metros and buses were cancelled.

Thousands of people marched in several cities ahead of two major demonstrations planned for Paris, where traffic was lighter than usual as many people simply took the day off to avoid the travel chaos.

“People made plans to deal with today and tomorrow, but I’m really worried about Monday, that’s when the hassle is going to start,” a customer service agent for the national railway company SNCF said at Montparnasse train station in Paris.

Union leaders have vowed to keep up their protest unless Macron drops the pension overhaul, considered a centre piece of the centrist president’s push to reform wide swathes of the French economy.