French battle of wills
PARIS A huge column of strikers and protesters are snaking along the Boulevard de Montparnasse, heading for the Bastille. Huge balloons hover above the floats from the individual unions.
This is the fifth time the unions have taken to the streets against pension reform and the mood is different. They know time is running out. The new pension law has almost been passed.
Many of the protesters are in favour of rolling strikes that could paralyse France. Privately some union leaders concede this battle is lost and are trying to build a political movement to defeat President Sarkozy in 2012.
One change today is that groups of students from the lycees have joined protests. One student leader said that insecurity and the lack of jobs was drawing students onto the streets.
One union leader said to me "this isn't 1968!" He was referring to the student protests that removed a goverment, but he said the government should be afraid when students and workers link arms.
I sense today a greater militancy, that was absent at recent protests. There is more anger directed personally at President Sarkozy. And there are plenty of people who want key groups of workers, like those who work in the power, oil and transport industries, to walk out and force the government's hand.
But even while the marchers began their long procession the French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, was insisting there would be no more concessions.
Privately the president is saying there can be no retreat. He believes that a climb-down would risk France losing its triple A credit rating. That would force up borrowing costs and would be a humiliation for France.
So a battle of wills is taking place, between a goverment that insists France cannot afford its current pension plan and many workers who believe the French way of life is being compromised because of mistakes by bankers.
This struggle looks set to intensify in the days ahead.