France prepares for new strikes and demonstrations against Macron’s pension reform
France braced for another day of mass protests and strikes on Monday against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension overhaul proposal, with the government and its leftist opponents blaming each other for the expected disruption.
Around 1.1 million people took to the streets for the first day of the strike on January 19, according to official statistics, the biggest protests since the last major cycle of pension reform under right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.
A police source told AFP that security forces expected similar-sized crowds on Tuesday at 240 protests across the country, in addition to disrupted strikes in transport, schools and other services.
As unions warn more shutdowns are ahead, the strikes represent a major test for Macron as he seeks to implement a flagship policy from his second term.
>> Will strikes force Macron to back down on French pension reform?
Mathilde Panot, an MP for the far-left La France Insoumise (LFI) party, accused Macron and his ministers of being responsible for the shutdowns that paralyze public transport and other services.
“They are the ones who want to wreak havoc in the country,” she told BFM television while criticizing Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin’s remarks this weekend as a “provocation”.
Darmanin, a close ally of Macron, said on Saturday that left-wing political parties “only seek to screw up the country” and champion “idleness and champagne socialism”.
The most controversial part of the proposed reform is to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, which is the lowest level of any major European economy.
Macron, who enshrined the change in his re-election manifesto last year, said it was necessary to secure future funding for the pension system, which is expected to slide into deficit in the next few years.
Critics point out that the system is currently balanced, noting that the head of the Independent Pensions Advisory Council recently told parliament that “pension spending is not out of control, it is relatively contained”.
For Macron, who has repeatedly told the French that they “have to work harder”, the failure of a signing proposal would seriously damage his credibility for the rest of his second and final term, analysts say.
The government led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne signaled that there was leeway on some measures as parliamentary committees began examining the bill on Monday.
Conditions could be improved for people who started working very young, or for mothers who took career breaks to care for children and people who invested in higher education, Borne suggested.
But the age limit of 64 is not up for discussion, she said on Sunday, calling it “non-negotiable”.
Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT union, warned that the government “cannot remain deaf to this formidable mobilization”.
“Listen, listen, listen to this discontent,” he told France 2 television.
Most Paris metro and commuter train services will be severely restricted on Tuesday, operator RATP said, while intercity travel will be disrupted with just one in three high-speed TGVs in circulation, according to SNCF.
Air travel is less hard hit, with Air France saying it would cancel one in 10 short and medium-haul service while long-haul flights would be unaffected.
Only minor disruptions are expected on international Thalys and Eurostar rail services.
Around half of all kindergarten and primary school teachers are believed to be on strike, the main teachers’ union Snuipp-FSU said.
Macron and his allies also face struggles in parliament as well as on the streets.
The left-wing opposition submitted more than 7,000 amendments to the bill in an effort to slow its passage through parliament.
Macron’s centrist allies, failing an outright majority in parliament, will need conservative votes to get the pension plan approved.
A new poll by the OpinionWay polling group, published Monday in the financial daily Les Echos, showed that 61% of French people supported the protest movement, up three points since January 12.