France Faces Nationwide strikes over pension reforms

France Faces Nationwide strikes over pension reforms

Thousands of French workers went on strike and marched across the country on Tuesday to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. Trade unions stepped up their campaign to force a policy U-turn, with French truck drivers and garbage collectors joining nationwide strikes against the pension reform plans.

This marks the sixth day of industrial action since mid-January, with widespread disruption to commuter and high-speed train services, fuel deliveries halted, and numerous schools shut. The government is hoping the reform will be adopted by the parliament later this month, but hardline unions have announced rolling strikes that could go on for days, including at oil refineries and on the railways.

Frédéric Souillot, the leader of the Force Ouvriere union, told the press that they will persist until the reform is retracted. The proposal of President Macron to extend working years is widely disliked according to opinion polls, and protests are anticipated in over 300 towns and cities.

Some students reportedly blocked schools and workers left cars on the side of the road, while others blocked entry to an industrial zone. Aurélie Herkous, who works in public finance in the Normandy town of Pont Audemer, said the reform was unjust, and that Macron should stop targeting the same group repeatedly while offering tax gifts to companies.

The major trade unions in France have shown a rare sense of unity in their opposition to President Macron’s pension reform proposal. However, their ability to stay united will be put to test in the upcoming days and weeks. While the CFDT, the largest trade union in France and typically more inclined towards reforms, has not agreed to participate in the continuous strikes as proposed by the hard-left CGT, FO, and other unions.

Laurent Berger, the head of CFDT, stated on Monday that CFDT would suggest other forms of social mobilization. While the government will be watching for any differences between unions that may weaken the movement, the CGT and FO, which have significant power in the transport and energy sectors, will still be able to cause significant disruption even without CFDT’s participation.

The French government argues that the proposed pension reform is crucial to prevent the pension system from collapsing. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne acknowledged that it is not a popular proposal, but emphasized the need to secure the system’s sustainability. Despite lacking an absolute parliamentary majority, President Macron’s party can rely on support from some members of the conservative Les Republicains party.

LR senator Bruno Retailleau encouraged Emmanuel Macron to persevere with his pension reform proposal, warning that giving in could jeopardize the rest of his second term. Despite support from some conservative members, the legislation faces obstacles in parliament and may require the use of special constitutional powers to bypass the parliamentary vote.

CGT union leader, Philippe Martinez, has declared that the ongoing strikes and protests against the French government’s pension reform plans will now enter a “higher gear.” The CGT and other unions have called for rolling strikes, with Tuesday marking the sixth day of action since mid-January. Most train and metro services have been cancelled, and many schools have closed. Martinez has called on President Emmanuel Macron to withdraw the controversial reform plans.

Over 260 demonstrations are expected across France on Tuesday, with police estimating the participation of 1.1 million and 1.4 million individuals. 

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