France was plunged into travel chaos for the second time in a month today as striking railway unions staged a show of strength against President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Across the country, fewer than a quarter of trains ran normally and several lines of the Paris metro system did not operate at all.

Rail links to Paris's airports were practically non-existent.

Paris Metro, bus workers and employees at state-owned gas and electricity companies all took part in the action.

The strike is in protest at public sector pension reforms being introduced by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

He plans to scrap special pension rights for some public sector workers, some of whom can retire as early as 50.

Yesterday, he said nothing would blow him off course and public opinion seems to be behind him.

The last time a French President confronted public sector workers was in 1995 and three weeks of strikes forced then president Jacques Chirac into an embarrassing climbdown.

Demonstrations are expected today but the stoppages could stretch well into next week when teachers and civil servants strike over job cuts.

RTÉ Europe Correspondent Tony Connelly considers the changing attitude towards the French unions