Friday December 08, 2023

French mass protests challenge Macron over pensions plan

February 01, 2023

PARIS: French protesters launched a new push on Tuesday to pressure President Emmanuel Macron into dropping a pension reform plan, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets and strikes disrupting transport and schools.

Union-led protesters came out for mass demonstrations for the second time in less than two weeks, challenging Macron´s plan to raise the age of retirement from 62 to 64, a flagship reform of his second mandate.

A police source said the authorities were bracing for up to 1.2 million people to take to the streets across the country. If confirmed, the number would exceed the 1.1 million who came out on January 19 against the proposed shake-up -- already the largest protests since the last major round of pension reform in 2010.

“We hope to be at least that many again,” the boss of the hard-left CGT union, Philippe Martinez, told media Tuesday, adding there would be 250 protest marches. Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, said there were “already more people than last time”, even before the country´s biggest protest in Paris had kicked off.

But Macron has shown no sign of stepping back, insisting on Monday that the reform was “essential”. Some 11,000 police were mobilised, with 4,000 deployed in Paris alone. The first marches kicked off in the morning across the country, with several prominent opposition politicians taking part. “Mr Macron is certain to lose,” said Jean-Luc Melenchon, a figurehead for the far left and former presidential candidate, as he marched in the southern port city of Marseille.

Millions had to find alternative means of transport Tuesday, work from home or take time off to look after their school-age children, with workers in transport and education sectors among those staging walkouts.

“This is about more than pensions, it is about what kind of society we want,” 59-year-old university professor Martine Beugnet told AFP. Paris metro and suburban rail services were severely restricted, as was intercity travel. A union source told AFP that 36.5 percent of staff at railway operator SNCF had stopped work, a figure down from 46.3 percent on January 19.

In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, Cheikh Sadibou Tamamate, 36, said he had a seat booked on an early morning train to Paris. “Unfortunately, it was cancelled,” he said, adding he hoped to catch a later train if there was one.

Around a quarter of all nursery and primary school teachers were on strike, according to the education ministry. In middle and high schools, more than half of teachers had stopped work, a teachers´ union said.

France´s oil industry was mostly paralysed, with the CGT union at energy giant TotalEnergies reporting between 75 and 100 percent of workers on strike. High school and university students also joined the movement, with a few dozen students at the prestigious Sciences-Po university occupying its main building overnight.