Much of the continent grinds to a halt as strikes hit

PUBLIC sector strikes paralysed several parts of Europe yesterday, causing mayhem in France and Austria and lesser disruption in Germany and Italy. The French strikes, over pension reform, disrupted train services, grounded most international flights and closed schools.

Strikes in Austria by transport and postal workers, also over pensions, were the biggest since the Second World War, while eastern German engineering firms were hit for a second day.

The Italian airline, Alitalia, had to cancel 200 flights because of a strike by cabin staff over job cuts.

Austrian authorities, like their French counterparts, are fighting to stave off a financial crunch in the pensions systems as populations age.

"You can’t strike against demographic developments like that," the education and science minister, Elisabeth Gehrer, said on Austrian radio.

Thirteen years after reunification, striking workers in Germany’s former communist east are fighting for the same working hours as their western colleagues, but authorities say the economy cannot support such a change.

Workers in the eastern German engineering and steel industry, employing about 320,000 people, marched yesterday in red vests demanding a reduction in

weekly working hours to 35 from the current 38 to bring them into line with western Germany.

In Austria, buses trains and trams stopped shortly after midnight and were due to remain out of action until last night.

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