The French government and unions prepared for an extended transport and energy strike from this week in a pensions dispute that is shaping up as the first major battle over President Nicolas Sarkozy's economic reform plans.
Rail, public transport, electricity and gas unions plan their second nationwide strike in a month on November 14, with some warning of an indefinite stoppage to protest plans to scrap special pension rules for about 1 million public sector workers.
The French government on Sunday refused to give ground in its battle with unions over the reform plan, paving the way for the strike that could paralyze public transport for days.
There is absolutely no new element, Bernard Thibault, head of the powerful CGT union told France Info radio on Monday, adding that the union was prepared for an extended dispute. What has been put on the table so far is far from enough.
But Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand repeated that the government was not prepared to make more concessions.
What's at stake isn't an issue between the government and a union but the implementation of a commitment made to the French people and approved by them, he told the daily Le Parisien.
The status quo is unthinkable, he said.
The first strikes are due to begin at 8.00 p.m. (2 p.m. EST) on Tuesday when rail unions begin an indefinite stoppage. They will be followed on Wednesday by Paris public transport workers and employees of electricity group EDF and gas company GDF.
France had a taste of what to expect this week during a one day stoppage last month which halted trains throughout France and caused major public transport disruptions in Paris for several days.
Sarkozy has pledged to change the so-called special pension regime that allows some workers to retire after paying pension contributions for 37.5 years rather than 40 for other workers.
The special rules were agreed after World War Two for workers in physically demanding jobs but the government says that technical advances mean they are no longer needed and are unfair to other workers and unaffordable.
The government has had talks with unions and employers but it wants the details of the changes to be worked out by individual corporations like the rail operator SNCF or Paris public transport authority RATP.
Thibault wants a broader set of talks about overall reform involving the government, unions and employers and accuses the government of trying to divide the movement by negotiating individual agreements with different organizations.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; editing by Sami Aboudi)