“We are obviously keeping a listening attitude, but also a very big determination to pursue the transformation,” said Benjamin Griveaux, a government spokesman, after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
One poll this week painted a conflicted picture of public opinion, with most people supporting the demonstrations but also favoring the government’s reform projects. Another found that nearly three of every four people in France believed that the Macron government’s policy overhauls were unjust, but that almost half saw the overhaul of the railway system as warranted.
Official estimates on Thursday said the strikes affected 40 percent of intercity trains and 30 percent of flights.
The protests on Thursday were initially scheduled by civil servants angered by salary freezes and by Mr. Macron’s pledge to cut 120,000 jobs, as well as by government plans to introduce merit-based pay and use more private contractors. However, after elements of the proposed railway overhaul became clear, the unions decided to join.
While the largest protests were in Paris, there were also large turnouts in Marseille, Nantes, Lyon and other cities.
In Paris, public workers converged with railway workers at the Place de la Bastille, the traditional gathering site for political protests. There were minor skirmishes mostly involving masked protesters, who often represent anarchist groups and who on Thursday threw projectiles at the police.
The rail workers’ mood seemed at once boisterous and bleak. They played loud music, sang protest songs and set off so many smoke bombs that it was hard to see at times. Still, several said they had little hope that the government would pay attention, and many said Mr. Macron did not care about them.
“This is a message for Monsieur Macron: Keep the public services,” said Christian Boumard, 57, who came to the protest from Nantes, a union stronghold on the Atlantic coast.
“The railroads are a public service. When you attack the rail workers, you are attacking a public service,” said Mr. Boumard, who has worked for the rail company, known as the SNCF, for 37 years.
“The rich do not give to the poor, but public services give something back to them,” Mr. Boumard said. “This is a political battle: It is not to gain some small benefit, it is public services he is attacking.”
Laurence Michel, 48, joined the SNCF in 2008 through a program she said could well disappear with the government overhaul. When her husband, a rail worker, died, the company hired her as part of a support policy for its families.
“Our job isn’t attractive to young people anymore,” said Ms. Michel, from Rennes. “We have night shifts and work during weekends. We keep hearing that we are privileged, but I’d like Mr. Macron to come and see if he finds privileges in our everyday job.”
“Pass the reform, and the SNCF will slowly die,” she said.