Striking public workers held their largest demonstrations nationwide Tuesday as the government indicated it was seeking a compromise to end the worst labor crisis in nearly a decade.

Railroad, postal, telephone, hospital and gas workers marched in Paris to protest the government's plan to overhaul the social security system and slash its $65 billion deficit. At the same time, the National Assembly considered formally criticizing the conservative government for its failure to resolve the strike.Some 50,000 people participated in the Paris demonstration despite the season's first snow flurries, police said. Scattered violence was reported. Tens of thousands of strikers also demonstrated in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Grenoble, Dijon, Rouen and other cities.

On Monday, both sides had reiterated their previous positions, leaving little apparent room for compromise. But Tuesday, the government and some union leaders began seeking ways to end the 12-day strike, which has paralyzed public transportation and the postal service and seriously hurt an already struggling economy.

Speaking at a meeting of conservative legislators, Prime Minister Alain Juppe reportedly said he was open to discussions about extending the time workers must pay social security before they can retire with full benefits. It is the most unpopular point in his austerity plan.

"I do not have the intention to commit suicide. I am courageous but not reckless," Juppe was quoted as saying by some of the deputies present.

The government wants to increase from 371/2 to 40 the number of years public workers must pay into the system, thereby bringing them in line with private sector employees.

Workers' Force union chief Marc Blondel also appeared conciliatory.

"A strike without negotiations is a strike that failed," he said during a visit to striking railroad workers at the Gare du Nord station in Paris.

"The problem," he said, "is to know what one negotiates and when one negotiates."

Juppe planned to address the National Assembly after it votes on the censure motion Tuesday. The motion was not likely to pass because the government has an overwhelming majority in parliament.

Most private sector employees have not heeded calls by the unions to join them, but the strike continued to spread among government employees Tuesday.