France Strike
© Reuters / Charles PlatiauProtesters at the Thursday march shouted anti-government slogans, waved red flares and held banners saying "on strike until withdrawal."
But unions argue the changes will force people to work longer for less. A majority of French people think the showdown between President Emmanuel Macron and unions over pensions has been mishandled by the government, a poll published on Wednesday found. The poll, conducted by Elabe for the news channel BFMTV, showed that 67 percent of French people think the pension reform has been "poorly managed" by the Macron government, compared with 32 percent who think the opposite.

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they were "opposed" to the reform in its current form, while 43 percent said they backed the planned changes.

The poll also put public support for the strike action against the reform at 53 percent, compared with 46 percent against.

The public sector strikes are now in their 44th day, but the industrial action has lost momentum since the centrist government made some concessions last week and as strikers face mounting financial pressure to return to work.

Comment: As of Tuesday 21st January, the strikes are now entering their 48th day.

The government has pledged to merge the country's 42 sector-specific pension schemes into a single, points-based system under which for each euro contributed, every pensioner would have equal rights.

But it has agreed to scrap a plan to make people work longer, notably by raising the age at which a person could draw a full pension to 64 while maintaining the legal retirement age at 62 after unions rejected the proposal outright.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in a letter to unions and employers: "The compromise that I'm offering ... seems to me the best way to peacefully reform our retirement system."

But the hardline CGT and FO unions, which want the reform dropped altogether, balked at the offer and called on workers to continue striking.

The unions blocked ports and disrupted power production on Thursday, but turnout dropped again at protest marches and the impact of strikes fizzled out.

At a sixth nationwide protest organised by unions, the Interior Ministry tallied only 187,000 people marching nationwide, including 23,000 in Paris; compared to 452,000, including 56,000 in Paris, last week.

The first mass protest against the reform on December 5 drew more than 800,000 people nationwide.

But the FO and CGT unions refuse to give up the fight and have called another nationwide protest against the "absurd and unfair" reform on January 24. They also urged public sector workers to down tools on January 22 and 23.

M Macron's radical move to modernise France's convoluted and costly pension system is part of an election pledge to put the country on a solid financial footing.

With one of the lowest retirement ages among industrialised nations, France currently spends the equivalent of 14 percent of economic output on pensions.

As such, the government insists the reform is needed to end chronic deficits that could reach £14.5 billion (€17bn) by 2025 if no action is taken.

M Philippe aims to present the reform bill on January 24 so that it can be discussed in parliament next month with the aim of passing a law before the summer recess.

- The Elabe poll of 1,005 people aged 18 and over was conducted online between January 14-15.