Categories
Audio Sources - Full Text Articles

Third wave of French pension protests keeps pressure on Macron

2023-02-07T14:15:30Z

Public transport, schools and refinery supplies in France were disrupted on Tuesday as trade unions led a third wave of nationwide strikes against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to make the French work longer before retirement.

Tuesday’s multi-sector walkouts come a day after pension reform legislation began its bumpy passage through parliament, and are a test of Macron’s ability to enact change without a working majority in the National Assembly.

The government says people must work two years longer – meaning for most until the age of 64 – in order to keep the budget of one of the industrial world’s most generous pension systems in the black.

The French spend the largest number of years in retirement among OECD countries – a deeply cherished benefit that a substantial majority are reluctant to give up, polls show.

At the start of a protest march in Paris, union leaders Philippe Martinez of the hardleft CGT and Laurent Berger of the moderate CFDT stood side by side to denounce the pension reform.

“This reform will upend the lives of several generations. If the government stubbornly forges ahead, we will step up our protest with longer and harder actions,” Martinez said.

Berger, whose union traditionally takes a more conciliatory stance, rejected sweeteners offered by the government, such as increasing the lowest pensions.

“These concessions are just patches. Increasing the legal retirement to 64 is the core of this reform and it is deeply unfair. It is a democratic folly for the government to turn a deaf ear to the protest,” he said.

Strike participation appeared lower than a week earlier, data showed, but the government will be watching street protests to gauge how strong public opposition remains.

“We’re worn out by work,” pensioner Bernard Chevalier said at a protest in the Riviera city of Nice. “Retirement should be a second life, not a waiting room for death.”

Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt dismissed opposition accusations that the government was in denial over the scale of public protests, and said change was needed.

“The pension system is loss-making and if we care about the system, we must save it,” the minister told RMC radio.

Strike participation among teachers fell to 14% from 26% the previous week, while among workers at state-run energy giant EDF it was 30%, down from 40%.

TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) said deliveries of refined oil products from its sites had been suspended. Power production was down by some 4.3 gigawatts (GW) – roughly 6% of capacity.

The government says the reform will allow gross savings of more than 17 billion euros ($18 billion) per year by 2030.

Unions and leftwing opponents say the money can be found elsewhere, notably from the wealthy, and that workers need protecting.

“Those of you who support this reform don’t understand how tough jobs are, what it’s like to wake up with an aching back,” Rachel Keke, the first cleaner in France to become a lawmaker, told a raucous debate in parliament on Monday.

“You don’t understand what it’s like to take medication to get through the work day. You don’t understand because it’s not a world you live in,” the leftist lawmaker continued to applause from opposition benches.

Conservative opponents, whose support Macron needs for a working majority in the National Assembly, want concessions for those who start working young.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has offered to let some people who start work early also retire early – but Les Republicains lawmakers are divided over whether the proposed starting age of 20-21 is low enough.

Related Galleries:

Balloons from the CFDT labour union float over the demonstration against French government’s pension reform plan in Paris as part of the third day of national strike and protests in France, February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

French police stand on position amid clashes with protesters during a demonstration against French government’s pension reform plan in Nantes as part of a day of national strike and protests in France, February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Protesters attend a demonstration against French government’s pension reform plan in Nantes as part of a day of national strike and protests in France, February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Protesters hold a placard which reads “We also want Senators’ luxury pensions” during a demonstration against French government’s pension reform plan in Paris as part of the third day of national strike and protests in France, February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

Protesters hold CGT labour union flags during a demonstration against French government’s pension reform plan in Nice as part of the third day of national strike and protests in France, February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Protesters hold CGT labour union flags during a demonstration against French government’s pension reform plan in Nantes as part of a day of national strike and protests in France, February 7, 2023. The slogan reads “Salaries, pensions, same fight”. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Protesters hold a banner which reads “Retirement is at 60” during a demonstration against French government’s pension reform plan in Nice as part of the third day of national strike and protests in France, February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Protesters walk past French CRS riot police during a demonstration against French government’s pension reform plan in Nantes as part of a day of national strike and protests in France, February 7, 2023. The slogan reads “For increasing the duration of the nap”. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

A commuter walks inside the Arts et Metiers subway station in Paris on the eve of the third nationwide day of strike and protests against French government’s pension reform plan with disruption on the Paris transport RATP network, France, February 6, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

A member of CFDT labour union prepares placards on the eve of the third day of national strike and protests in France against French government’s pension reform plan, in Nice, France, February 6, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Protesters hold CFDT labour union balloons during a demonstration against French government’s pension reform plan in Nice as part of the third day of national strike and protests in France, February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

General view of the hemicycle as French Labour, Employment and Integration Minister Olivier Dussopt delivers a speech during a debate on French government’s pension reform plan at the National Assembly in Paris, France, February 6, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier