PARIS - French President Nicolas Sarkozy's first real test after five months in office comes at rush hour today, with a strike disrupting flights and trains around Europe, and stripping Paris of public transport - all because of anger over plans to trim some retirement packages.
The strikes, which began late yesterday and were to last through today, are meant to send a warning that deeper reforms will come at a cost.
Sarkozy is facing a number of challenges as the economy lags despite his pledges to invigorate it, and signs of discord arise within his party over the president's policies. His rocky marriage also is front-page news.
The president appeared unfazed, pledging to push through the reforms regardless of public protest because "that's what I was elected for."
While France's strikes are famously common, the country has not had any serious ones since Sarkozy took office. This week's action could be the biggest in years.
Labor leaders hoped the walkout would recall 1995 strikes that paralyzed the country and sapped then-President Jacques Chirac's appetite for reform. Those strikes - also involving retirement rights - dragged on for three weeks.
Sarkozy will be out of the country at an EU summit in Portugal today, while tens of millions of his compatriots struggle to get to work and school.
The strike started at 8 p.m. yesterday. Soon after it began, the Paris subway appeared to be running as usual, though screens advised travelers of disruptions to come. The bulk of problems were expected today.
The Paris transport authority said traffic would be "virtually nil" on most of its lines, and "nearly paralyzed" on the rail network.
The strikes could continue into tomorrow: three train federations were calling for a daily vote on whether to extend them.