Public transport, classes and electricity, oil and gas supplies were disrupted across France on Tuesday in the third round of protests and strikes against the government’s plans to reform pensions. The mobilizations come a day after the start of debate on the bill in parliament. According to authorities, 1.27 million people took part in last week’s protest, which was larger than the first one on January 19. The country’s eight main trade unions called for more demonstrations on Saturday.
Rail operator SNCF said traffic was severely disrupted Tuesday across the country, including on the high-speed network. International lines to Britain and Switzerland were also affected, as was the metro in the capital, Paris. Power utility EDF said the protest movement caused a temporary reduction in power supply that did not lead to blackouts. More than half of the employees supported the strike at TotalEnergies refineries, the company said.
Many teachers were absent from classes in several parts of the country, including Paris. Other regions had school vacations. The president, Emmanuel Macron, vowed to press ahead with the reform despite polls showing growing opposition. A heated debate began in parliament on Monday over the law, to which the opposition tabled more than 20,000 amendments, mostly from the left-wing Nupes coalition.
The bill would gradually raise the minimum retirement age from the current 62 to 64 in 2030 and accelerate an already planned measure that calls for 43 years of contributions to qualify for a full pension, among other issues. The debate in the National Assembly and the Senate is expected to last several weeks.
France in Third Day of General Strike Against Macron’s Pension Reform
France lives this Tuesday its third day of protests at the call of the unions against the pension reform of President Emmanuel Macron, in an attempt to increase the pressure in the midst of the examination of the unpopular project by the Parliament.
“We are facing a president (…) who, out of an inflated ego, wants to show that he is able to pass a reform regardless of public opinion,” something “dangerous,” warned CGT union leader Philippe Martinez on RTL radio.
Two out of three French people, according to polls, oppose the delay of the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030 and the increase from 42 to 43 years of contribution time by 2027 to collect a full pension, as proposed by the government.
And, backed by this rejection, the unions are waging an offensive with strikes and peaceful protests which on January 31 resulted in the largest demonstration against a social reform in three decades (between 1.27 and 2.8 million people in the streets).
The third day of the general strike dawned Tuesday with train service and public transport in Paris “disrupted,” although less than in previous days, and with one flight in five cancelled at Paris’s Orly airport.
“I leave much earlier. It’s a real organization, about an hour and a half earlier to have a commuter train. It’s the third time in a few days and we’re already starting to know what to do,” said Sydsa Diallo, 36, at a station in the Paris region.
The CGT claimed a drop of 4,500 MW of energy production, equivalent to more than four nuclear reactors, due to the stoppages in this sector, as well as a 75% and 100% strike in Total Energies refineries (56% according to management).
Maintaining support and mobilization is key for the unions. The authorities estimate that the marches planned for Tuesday will bring together between 900,000 and 1.1 million people. The government announced the deployment of 11,000 police and gendarmes.
Laurent Berger, leader of the main union, CFDT, called in the daily La Croix for the government to listen to the demonstrators: “What would be the perspective if it does not respond? Do we need indignation, violence and anger to be heard?” he asked.
– “Reform or bust” –
His calls for the moment found no echo in Parliament. On Monday, on the first day of debate in the plenary of the Assembly (lower house), 292 deputies voted against and 243 in favor of a left-wing motion calling for the withdrawal of the reform.
“It is reform or bankruptcy” of the pay-as-you-go system, Public Accounts Minister Gabriel Attal had warned them. The pension fund will face a deficit of some $14.6 billion in 2030, according to the government.
Although the reform is an electoral promise of Macron, observers estimate that his reelection in 2022 was largely due to the voters’ desire to avoid the victory of his rival in the ballot, the far-right Marine Le Pen.
Weeks later, the ruling party lost its absolute majority in the Assembly. It is now seeking the votes of the right-wing opposition Republicans (LR) to pass the reform, in the face of the refusal of Le Pen and the left.
In a last-minute concession, the Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, announced that people who started working between 20 and 21 years of age will be able to retire at 63 years of age, but without managing to convince all the LR deputies.
The government chose, however, a parliamentary procedure that limits the time of debate in the two chambers of Parliament and allows it to implement the reform, if they have not pronounced themselves by March 26.
With the countdown activated, time is running out for opponents. The unions are betting on increasing the pressure on the deputies with protests in the streets, and have already called for a day of demonstrations on Saturday.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.