Huge crowds marched across France, piling pressure on Macron’s pension reform

  • The reform will raise the retirement age from 62 to 64
  • Schools, transportation networks and refinery deliveries have been affected
  • Macron: Reform is vital to ensure the continuity of the pension system

PARIS (Reuters) – Huge crowds marched across France on Tuesday to say “no” to President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to make people work longer before retiring, as pressure mounted in the streets against a government that says it will stand by its stance.

Opinion polls show a large majority of French oppose raising the retirement age to 64 from 62, a move Macron says is “vital” to ensuring the continuity of the pension system.

In Paris, while police and union estimates varied widely, they all agreed the numbers were up from the first day of nationwide anti-reform protests on January 19.

This was true of most of France. In the western city of Nantes, for example, 23,000 people took to the streets, authorities said, up from 17,000 on the 19th.

“It’s better than it was on the 19th… It’s a real message sent to the government, saying we don’t want 64,” Laurent Berger, who leads France’s largest CFDT, said before the Paris rally.

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Demonstrating behind signs reading “No to reform” or “We will not surrender,” many said they would take to the streets as often as needed until the government backed down.

“For a president, it’s easy. He sits in a chair … he can work until he’s 70,” bus driver Isabelle Texier said at a protest in Saint-Nazaire on the Atlantic coast. “We can’t ask the roof layers to work up to 64, it’s not possible.”

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Striking workers have held up French refinery shipments, public transport and schools, even if, in many sectors, fewer jobs left on Tuesday than on the 19th because the cost-of-living crisis makes it hard to skip a day’s wages.

More hits?

For unions, which looked likely to announce more industrial measures later in the day, the challenge will be sustaining strikes at a time when high inflation is eroding payroll.

A union source said that about 36.5% of the SNCF’s rail operator workers were on strike by midday — down about 10% from January 19 — even if the disruption to train traffic was broadly similar.

On the rail networks, only one in three TGV high-speed trains and fewer local and regional trains were operating. Services on the Paris metro were thrown into chaos.

EDF Utilities Group (EDF.PA) He said 40.3% of workers were on strike, down from 44.5%. The Education Ministry also said that fewer teachers had left their jobs.

Unions and companies sometimes disagreed about whether this strike was more or less successful than the previous one. for TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA)Fewer workers at its refineries had stopped using the tools, but CGT said there were more.

EDF data showed, however, that French energy supplies fell by about 5%, or 3.3 gigawatts, as workers at nuclear reactors and thermal plants joined the strike.

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TotalEnergies said shipments of petroleum products from its French sites had stopped, but customer needs were being met.

‘cruel’

The government said pushing the retirement age to 64 was “non-negotiable”.

And with imposed reform testing Macron’s ability to push through change now that he has lost his working majority in parliament, some felt resigned to compromising with conservative opponents who are fully open to pension reform.

“There is no point in going on strike. This law will be adopted anyway,” said Mathieu Jacot, 34, who works in the luxury sector.

According to estimates by the Ministry of Labor, the pension reform will bring in an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions. Unions say there are other ways to raise revenue, such as taxing the super-rich or asking employers or better-off pensioners to contribute more.

“This reform is unfair and brutal,” said Luke Farr, Secretary General of the UNSA Civil Servants Union.

And on a local level, some have declared “Robin Hood” operations not authorized by the government. In the southwest region of Lot-et-Garonne, the local CGT union branch has cut power to several speed cameras and disabled smart energy meters.

“When there is massive opposition, it would be dangerous for the government not to listen,” said Mylene Jacot, general secretary of the CFDT’s civil servants branch.

Additional reporting by Sybil de la Hamid, Forrest Crelin, Benjamin Mallet, Alain Ako, Lily Forode, Stéphane Mahe, Benoit van Overstraeten, Lee Thomas, Michel Rose, Bertrand Bussy; Written by Ingrid Melander and Richard Love; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Mark Heinrichs and Gareth Jones

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