Protesters step up France strikes over Macron’s retirement-age raise


Strikes brought trains to a halt in French cities and protesters flooded the streets on Thursday after President Emmanuel Macron pledged to implement legislation raising the retirement age.

Transport employees, teachers and workers opposing the pension law, which raises the minimum retirement age by two years to 64, marched around the country including in Marseille, Rennes and Nantes. In Paris near Gare du Nord train station, some lit flares and a bonfire blazed outside. In some cities, there were already clashes with police.

Labor unions are trying to raise the pressure on the government, a day after Macron gave a television interview that stoked their anger. The president doubled down on the pension overhaul as the best way to ensure the future of France’s generous pension system, in part due to rising life expectancy, and said those opposed needed to face reality.

Macron defends move to raise retirement age as protests roil France

The government’s use of executive powers to push the bill through has intensified a standoff with unions, which have drawn huge crowds since January but so far failed to get Macron to change course.

Rail workers marched onto the tracks at Paris’s Gare de Lyon and at the train station in Marseille, where the local branch of a rail workers union vowed to block trains from running until the pension plan is withdrawn.

The country’s civil aviation body warned of disruptions to flights into and out of airports for Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon, urging passengers to delay their travel and contact airlines.

Outside Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, protesters blocked a highway leading to one of the terminals of one of Europe’s busiest airports. The blockade forced some travelers to reach the airport on foot, the French channel BFM TV reported.

Transportation Minister Clement Beaune tweeted that ministry officials were meeting at a crisis center to monitor disruptions to public transportation “hour by hour.”

Rolling strikes have also disrupted access to refineries and walkouts by trash collectors have left heaps of garbage bags spilling out onto the sidewalks in Paris this month.

Students joined industrial action in cities including Nantes, where one protester held a sign that read “Sign-makers on strike.” Another picket sign featured a drawing of a skeleton that said “Long live retirement.”

Photos and videos from Nantes and Rennes in western France showed police using water cannons and tear gas, and protesters lighting trash on fire.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he ordered the deployment of nearly 12,000 police officers, including 5,000 in Paris on Thursday. Some earlier protests turned into clashes with police, who detained scores of people in recent days, although few were ultimately charged.

After the government passed the pension bill through the lower house of Parliament without a vote last week, the text now faces a review from the Constitutional Council. Still, Macron said in Wednesday’s interview that the law should come into effect by the end of the year.

Since his government has survived two no-confidence motions in the assembly, the test is only whether Macron can outlast the unions’ ability to bring pressure to bear on the streets.

“Yesterday, the president of the Republic mocked us,” said Marie Buisson, a senior official in the CGT union confederation, which is at the heart of the strikes.

“We will continue” even if the bill is adopted “because what we refuse is this reform that forces everyone to work for two extra years,” she said on the radio. “You can clearly see the enormous anger out there.”

France protests: What to know as Macron forces a retirement-age hike

Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt said Thursday that authorities were not in denial about the crisis but hoped to resolve it. “There are many subjects which could allow for renewing a dialogue,” he said, including the way in which companies share profits with workers.

“I don’t believe at all that from one day to the next, within 12 to 24 hours, that we could pass from a state of conflict to an entente,” he added. “Things will be done gradually.”


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