The latest: President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to stand firm against spreading strikes as hundreds of thousands of civil servants -- teachers, customs agents, tax inspectors, some air traffic controllers and others -- stayed off the job Tuesday, joining transport workers with separate demands who have been on strike for a week. The civil servants planned just a one-day walkout.
Sarkozy "will not retreat": Ending an unusual silence, Sarkozy called on the strikers to return to work and said he would not be forced to back away from the deep economic, social and political changes that he is advocating for the country. "France needs reforms to meet the challenges imposed on it by the world," he said in a speech to mayors. "These reforms have been too long in coming. ... We will not surrender and we will not retreat." Political analysts have warned that capitulating to the strikers could seriously weaken Sarkozy's presidency.
What's at stake: Sarkozy is pushing for tougher pension rules for the transit unions, some of whose members retire at 50, and ultimately wants even more ambitious reforms. One involves slimming down the civil service, which has 5 million workers.