More than a million French citizens demonstrated across the country on Thursday to oppose the government’s proposal to raise the retirement age by two years, from 60 to 64.
The government estimated that 1.12 million people took part in the protest, 80,000 of whom took part in a march in Paris where police and protesters briefly clashed.
President Emmanuel Macron faces a major challenge in the wake of the strikes as he insisted on Thursday that his pension reform plan, widely unpopular according to polls, was “fair and responsible” and must be implemented. The demonstrators claimed the opposite.
At the start of the protest march in Tours, western France, a large banner read: “It is wages and pensions that need to be increased, not the retirement age”.
“If the reform passes”, confides Isabelle, a 53-year-old social worker, “I will have to prepare my walker”. She said she couldn’t handle another two years in the field.
Even by French standards, the turnout was impressive, with more people present than at the previous rally for pension reform in 2019.
Philippe Martinez, the leader of the radical CGT union, said more than 2 million people took part. In France, discrepancies between police and trade union estimates are quite frequent. Political observers see participation as a victory for the unions in both cases.
Masked protesters threw objects at police lines during the Paris protest, prompting officers to use tear gas on the outskirts of the crowd for a brief period. About 30 people were arrested, according to police estimates.
According to the government, pension reform is necessary to prevent the system from breaking down. The Ministry of Labor estimates that an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.1 billion) in annual contributions will be needed for the pension system to become self-sustaining by 2027, which can be achieved by delaying the retirement of two years and increasing the contribution period.
According to the administration, pension reform is needed to prevent the system from breaking down. The Ministry of Labor estimates that for the pension system to become self-sustaining by 2027, it will take an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.1 billion) in annual contributions, which can be obtained by delaying the retirement of two years and increasing the salary. in period.
Unions argue that other means, such as raising taxes on the wealthy or increasing pension contributions from employers and the wealthy, can be used to prop up the pension system.
Flags and banners across France, including in the southern city of Nice, say “No to reform”.
“Taxes are one approach to this problem. Laurent Berger, the head of France’s largest trade union, the CFDT, argued that workers should not bear the burden of the country’s public sector deficit.
Other bombs were dropped.
Unions face a difficult task: to channel public outrage at the reform and the resulting cost-of-living crisis into a social movement powerful enough to force the government to reverse its policies.
Union leaders said Thursday was just the start and more strikes and protests are expected later in the day.
Although he lost an absolute majority in parliament, Macron still counts on the support of conservatives to push through his pension reform.
According to the company, nearly 45% of its workforce, including train drivers, teachers and refinery workers, went on strike. In France, bus drivers and government workers took the day off and France Inter radio played music instead of news and talk.
According to rail operator SNCF, only a third to a fifth of TGV lines were operational, with even fewer local or regional trains in service.
There was a rumble of traffic.
The Paris metro service was severely disrupted, with many stations closed and few trains in circulation.
Gare du Nord station was teeming with frantic commuters trying to catch one of the few remaining trains, while workers in yellow vests reassured the terrified.
Beverly Gahinet, a restaurant worker, said she supported the strike despite her train being delayed. Some people, however, weren’t so open.
“It’s usually the same (people) who are on strike…and we have to put up with that,” real estate worker Virginie Pinto said as she looked for a subway to get to work.
The ability of unions to undermine governments’ reform goals has been hampered by a 2007 ban on walkouts and restrictions on strikes to ensure minimum public services.
Another factor that could be attributed to the pandemic is the increased prevalence of remote working.
A vital sea route for trade between Britain and the Continent, between Dover and Calais, has been closed following the strike.
According to their unions, seven out of ten primary school teachers and as many secondary school teachers have resigned.
Striking students have taken over at least one high school in Paris.
According to data from EDF and network operator RTE, France had to increase its imports because domestic energy production fell by almost 10%.
TotalEnergies refineries in France were unable to accept shipments on the day of the strike, according to union and company representatives, but TotalEnergies maintained that the strike would have no effect on the company’s operations. refinery.
Orly, the second largest airport in Paris, recorded a 20% drop in flights.