A national strike is taking place in France after President Emmanuel Macron’s circumvention of parliament to pass the divisive pension bill which would raise the retirement age by two years.

The co-ordinated strikes are expected to cause widespread national chaos, as well as travel disruption to and from France.

French airports will be hit, with Paris Orly airport seeing its schedule of flights reduced by 30% according to the Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGAC).

Eurostar announced eight of its trains would be suspended as it runs a revised timetable.

French domestic travel will also take a hit. SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company, said to expect severe disruption with reduced TGV, TER and Intercite services.

Paris metro and other modes of public transport will be hit as transport workers take to the picket lines.

The industrial action could become violent, emulating the past few days of demonstrations all over France.

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Why are people protesting and striking?

President Macron’s plan to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64 is a deeply unpopular.

Opinion polls show the vast majority of voters oppose the pension reforms, as do trade unions, who argue that there are other ways to balance the pension system account.

So as a collective force, workers from the transport, sanitary, refinery, education sectors and beyond have been marching in their respective cities and towns against the bill.

French streets have become lined with overflowing bins, notably in Paris where almost 10,000 tonnes of rubbish remains uncollected.

How Macron did to push the retirement bill through?

The French president’s current PM, Elisabeth Borne, announced the proposed pension changes on 10 January.

Last week, Mr Macron forced the pension reform through the National Assembly without a vote using Article 49.3, a part of the French constitution that enables the government to pass a law without a vote by MPs.

What’s been the reaction and effect on the country so far?

After the bill was forced through on 16 March, people came out en masse to demonstrate.

Around 7,000 people participated in an unplanned rally on the Place de la Concorde in Paris – across the River Seine from the assembly.

Riot police fired tear gas and used a water cannon to disperse protesters, while officers who charged groups of demonstrators had stones thrown at them, according to a Reuters reporter. Firefighters were also called to extinguish blazes in Paris.

More than 300 activists were arrested.

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France: Police spray protesters

A ‘spectacular failure’ but the president survives

The move was called “a spectacular failure” by Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of left-wing party France Insoumise (France Unbowed).

“This bill has no parliamentary legitimacy, no legitimacy from the street,” he said at a protest outside parliament.

However, on 21 March, the president narrowly survived two motions of no confidence by nine votes after they were tabled by centrist MPs and those from the far-right National Rally.

The centrist group’s vote was first in the National Assembly, with 278 MPs voting in favour – higher than expected but narrowly short of the 287 needed to get the motion through.

Why does Macron say he’s bringing the change?

Speaking publicly for the first time since the reforms were forced through parliament, President Macron said the retirement system needed a change to keep it financed.

Mr Macron said: “That reform is not a luxury, it is not fun, it’s a necessity for the country,”

Currently, France’s state retirement age is 62 – much lower than many of its European neighbours. In the UK it’s 66, Germany and Italy 67, and Spain 65.

Its generous welfare state has long weighed heavily on the economy and workforce, which is gradually shrinking.

There are only 1.7 workers for every pensioner in France, down from 2.1 in 2000.

David S Bell, emeritus professor of French government and politics at the University of Leeds, told Sky News: “[Mr Macron’s] argument is that unless these reforms are made, and the French working life is made longer, the country won’t be able to afford it.”

What’s next?

Mr Macron said the retirement age changes would “continue its democratic path” and would need to be implemented by the “end of the year”.

This can only be legalised once the Constitutional Council reviews the bill in the coming weeks.

Mr Macron said he “respects” the protests against the reforms, but “condemned” violence ensuing from them last week.

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