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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Strike by Transport Workers Brings France to a Standstill

PARIS -- Strikers defying President Nicolas Sarkozy's reform efforts crippled France's public transport system Thursday, forcing commuters to drive, pedal or walk to work -- or stay home. Some workers vowed to continue the walkout Friday.

The strike was the first major showdown between Sarkozy, who was elected in May with a strong mandate for change, and powerful unions who have in the past forced the government to back down from reform plans.

Bus, train and subway services ground to a halt across France: More than 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains were not running; only one Paris subway line -- which is automatic, with no drivers -- was running as usual; and international trains were affected, though spared the worst.

Employees at Paris' transport authority agreed to extend their walkout -- originally scheduled to end Thursday evening -- until Friday on at least six of 14 subway lines, the UNSA labor union said. Others were considering whether to follow suit.

Unions have been in a showdown with Sarkozy's conservative government over the past several months, but Thursday's walkout was the first action taken.

The dispute centers on Sarkozy's plans to eliminate a special pension plan that gives advantages to those in physically demanding jobs, such as miners and train drivers. Workers covered by those pensions are able to retire earlier -- and on more generous terms -- than the vast majority of France's working population.

Meanwhile, neighboring Germany was also hit with a major rail strike Thursday, prompted by a dispute over pay increases. The GDL union, representing around 75 percent of the train drivers for the state-owned railway operator, staged a nine-hour strike that jammed highways nationwide.