France will face after tomorrow a major strike in the transportation field. The aim is to protest against the draft reforms proposed to pension systems in the country. This strike will represent the first serious test for the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, five months after his election.

For the first time since 1995, the eight unions of the French train lines compagny (SNCF), in addition to six unions of the Paris Metro and five unions in the energy sector, voted unanimously to observe a strike Thursday, called the "Black Thursday".

The French presidency announced that it expects a "very strong mobilization" for the strike, while Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand expects that no train, bus or subway will work. This threatens France to total paralysis, since unions have threatened to strike beyond Thursday.

If the mobilization should be very important in the sector of transport and energy, it will not be very present in the public sector.

However, public sector unions are planning a meeting on October 22th to discuss a possible approach the mid-November against what they called the "attempt to weaken the public sector" through the reforms proposed by the rightist government. Reforms that will affect some 5,2 million employees and that will lead to the removal of 23 thousands jobs in 2008.

Although unions are not opposed in principle to reform the French pension system, they denounced the arbitrary manner in which the government wants to implement these "unfair" reforms, accrording to the unions. They want negotiations on these reforms.

In this context, Bernard Tipu, general secretary of the General Labor Confederation (CGT), said that the strike of Thursday aim to force the government to re-join the negotiating table. According to Tipu, the reform of special pension systems is only the beginning of the reform of the entire pension system to reduce the pensions of workers in public and private sectors.

A month ago, unions have warned the French government against the adoption of the law on pension reform without conducting negotiations with the representatives of workers. They threatened to unleash a "serious conflict" with the government.

Union representatives stressed that the government should not exclude the idea of conflict with the unions if it wants to impose a "fait accompli". "If the government wants to advance alone the implementation of these reforms, it should assume alone the consequences of this measure", they say.

The current proposed reform of pension systems in the private sector, which affects 500.000 workers and 1,1 million retirees among 18 million people working in the private sector, aim to increase the duration of the contribution to the pension's fund at 40 years, by 2012, instead of 37,5 years today.

The proposal also seeks to reform pension systems used by some companies as government-owned SNCF, "GDF" and "EDF" that allow early retirement for their workers. The government wants these systems to be compatible with the rules in other sectors of government.

However, the special retirement systems takes into account the danger of the job, like in the mining sector, sailors, gas and electricity. Other sectors in France benefit from special retirement systems such as notaries and dancers of the Paris Opera.

But workers in the rail sector are tired from being treated by the government as if they were "distinguished". "In exchange of the opportunity to retire at the age of 50 or 55 years, we have lower pensions" they say. "62% of us are leaving with less than 1500 euros per month", they add.

Sarkozy says he will not retreat from reforms included in his electoral program. He stressed that the adoption of these reforms has been postponed repeatedly. In 1995, under pressure of mass demonstrations, the government of Alain Juppé was forced to withdraw after three weeks of chaos in public transportation sector.

Sarkozy says that he knows very well that next week will be difficult, but he is aware at the same time that the French people have elected him to deal with difficulties.

Sarkozy depends on its wide popularity : opinion polls have shown that 61 to 63% of French support Sarkozy's slogan of "breaking with the past". According to these surveys 53% of French people believe that the strike on "Black Thursday" is unjustified against 43% who consider it "justified".

For its part, the Socialist Parti (PS) judge that next week will be "a black week for the French authorities". The opposition party added that the discontent of the policies adopted by the government of the Right increases and the problems accumulate in France.

These events come at a time when the French left seeks to unite its ranks to deal with government policies. The leaders of the "PS", the "Revolutionary Communist League" and "Green" met last month for the first time at the invitation of the Communist Party leader Marie-George Buffet, to express their opposition to policies adopted by the rightist government.

Olivier Besancenot, leader of the "Revolutionary Communist League", expressed the hope that the leaders of the left adopt a common attitude towards the reform of pension systems, while François Hollande, secretary general of the Socialist Party, calls for expanding the discussions to cover more issues and to form a liaison committee to coordinate between the parties of the left.

It seems that France is on the path to a political conflict between the right and left. The left seeks to exploit the current crisis between unions and government to achieve political gains that they could not during the presidential and legislative elections, and to increase their support in the ranks of unions that represent a wide range of French society.