PARIS – Teachers, postal workers and other public servants staged a one-day strike and tens of thousands marched through French cities Thursday, a widespread protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's planned job cuts.
Schools were shut around the country as nearly half the teachers stayed away from work, while about 15 percent of all public workers adhered to the 24-hour walkout, according to the Public Service Ministry.
At the same time, tens of thousands of protesters marched through Paris and other cities to oppose the government austerity moves.
Still the government stayed firm on its plans to trim thousands of government jobs to cut costs in the overstretched budget. Sarkozy said strikes presented "insurmountable difficulties for many families" and proposed a new law that would require schools to shelter students during strike days.
As the marches were winding down, Sarkozy went on national television and announced that he had asked the government to propose the new law, which would require local authorities to arrange care for pupils on strike days. The central government would foot the bill, he said.
The law would also require teachers to alert school officials 48 hours in advance if they plan to strike.
Sarkozy has sought to trim bureaucracy and lessen the impact of France's frequent strikes since taking office last year. A law passed last summer requires a minimum level of service on public transport when transit workers strike.
Sarkozy insisted that French workers' freedom to strike remained "fundamental," but added that strikes in public service "pose insurmountable difficulties for many families, especially the most modest ones."
Unions threatened more strikes and protests and lashed out at Sarkozy's proposal, saying he was seeking to pit teachers against parents.
French high school students staged several protests earlier this year in solidarity with their teachers against the job cuts, and some of those demonstrations degenerated into violence.