Sarkozy, Unions in Showdown

Strikes starting tonight will test French president's reform resolve, shape tenure
By Lucas Laursen,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 13, 2007 11:20 AM CST
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, right, and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, chat before they were meeting with students of the Romain Rolland Highschool in the Reinickendorf district in Berlin...   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – French railway workers will walk off the job again tonight, this time in an open-ended strike with some backup from subway, bus, electrical, and gas workers, all angry over Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal to end their special pension rights. The strike is expected to test the president's will for reforms aimed at liberating France's sluggish economy from bureaucratic constraints.

While he was elected with a mandate for reform, and polls show support for ending the special retirement benefits, union resistance has been fierce. Now Sarkozy watchers say the strike will be decisive: If he backs down, he risks becoming another Jacques Chirac, who was paralyzed into inaction; if he succeeds, he may win the momentum Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan both gained by facing down strikers in the 1980s.