Massive nationwide strike hits France over pension reform

Nationwide demonstrations take place against French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to push the retirement age from 62 to 64.

An estimated 1.28 million people have participated in a nationwide strike against French President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to push forward the retirement age to 64, the interior ministry said.

The figure suggests the demonstrations were some of the biggest in decades, slightly higher than the 1.27 million estimated during a previous round of protests against the reform on January 31.

The hard-left CGT union put the number of protesters at 3.5 million.

Across the country, many protest rallies attracted bigger crowds than previous ones organised since mid-January, including in Marseille, one of France’s biggest cities, authorities and local media said.

There were some clashes on the margins of the Paris rally, and police said 22 people had been arrested.

France’s nationwide strike, which disrupted train services, shut schools and halted fuel deliveries on Tuesday, will spill into Wednesday as unions stepped up their campaign to force a U-turn on a deeply unpopular policy.

This is a critical time for both sides since Macron’s government is hoping his plan to raise the pension age by two years will be adopted by parliament by the end of the month.

French gendarmes in riot gear operate next to a burning urban element during a demonstration in Paris on March 7, 2023, on the sixth day of nationwide rallies organized since the start of the year against French President's pension reform and its postponement of the legal retirement age from 62 to 64.
French gendarmes in riot gear on the sixth day of nationwide rallies organsed since the start of the year against the French president’s pension reform [Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/AFP]

Looking to pile pressure on lawmakers, France’s more hardline unions said this time, there would be rolling strikes that could go on for days, at least in some sectors.

The CGT union said workers had voted to prolong strikes at all TotalEnergies sites.

“The real fight starts now,” said Marin Guillotin, FO union representative at the Donges refinery in western France.

“We haven’t been heard or listened to. We are using the only means we have left: it’s the hard strike … we are not going to give up.”

Trains will continue to be disrupted on Wednesday, as will the Paris metro system, although to a slightly lesser degree than on Tuesday, said the SNCF and RATP transportation companies running them.

Truck drivers and garbage collectors had joined the strike on Tuesday, as it extended to more sectors.

Macron’s proposal to make people work longer is deeply unpopular amongst the wider public, opinion polls show.

The government insists its reform plan is essential to ensure the pension system does not go bust.

The government also says pensions of the poorest 30 percent of the population will increase by 2.5 to 5 percent.

Unions say small increases in contributions could keep the pension system solvent. They say the proposed measures are unfair and would disproportionately affect low-skilled workers in tiring jobs who start their careers early.

Source: News Agencies