Thousand March Against French Pension Reform Plan

PARIS-- The two months of French protests against the government's bill to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 fizzled on Saturday, with President Nicolas Sarkozy all but certain to sign it into law this month.

The boisterous and even jubilant mood at earlier demonstrations gave way to a morose atmosphere in Paris, as new signs of discord emerged in the union ranks, who have protested the measure since September.

The marches led by labor unions are the eighth of their kind since early September aimed to derail Sarkozy's efforts to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 in order to salvage a money-losing pension system.

Some union members suggested that the Saturday march was one too many -- though another one is planned for later this month -- and more militant ones said the strikes didn't go long enough.

Police said 375,000 had turned out nationwide, down from 560,000 that hit the streets on Oct. 28. More than a million took to the streets at a protest in late September, according to the police.
The CGT labor union said some 1.2 million took part in Saturday's protest nationwide.
Figures provided by police and the unions have been vastly different throughout the protest season.

"I think this has been a waste," said Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary-general of the Workers' Force.

Throughout the protests that began in early September, the union has called for strikes that would block the country.

"We haven't given the boost needed to shake the government," Mailly said.

Unions see retirement at age 60 as a cornerstone of France's generous social benefit system. The government insists the entire pension system is in jeopardy without the reform because French people are living longer -- an average of nearly 85 years for women and 78 for men.