- The reform will raise the retirement age from 62 to 64
- Schools, transportation networks, oil refinery supplies were affected
- Macron: Reforms are essential to ensure the viability of the pension system
PARIS, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Striking workers disrupted oil refinery supplies, public transport and schools in France on Tuesday in a second day of nationwide protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to force people to work longer before retirement.
Large crowds marched across French cities to denounce the reform, which raised the retirement age by two years to 64 and tested Macron’s ability to withstand change as he lost his majority in parliament.
Only a third of high-speed TGV trains were running on the rail networks, and there were even fewer local and regional trains. Services in the Paris metro are in a state of disrepair.
Many marching behind placards reading “No to reform” or “We will not surrender” said they would take to the streets as often as necessary to force the government to back down.
“We won’t drive until we’re 64!” bus driver Isabelle Texier said at a protest in Saint-Nazaire, on the Atlantic coast.
“It is easy for the president. He sits in the chair… he can work until he is 70 years old,” he said. “We can’t ask the roof layers to work until 64, it’s impossible.”
After January. As more than a million people took to the streets on the 19th, the first national strike, unions said preliminary data from protests across the country showed a larger turnout.
“This is better than 19… This is a real message to the government and we don’t want 64 years,” Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, France’s largest union, said before the Paris march.
Opinion polls show a significant majority of French are against reform, but Macron intends to stand his ground. He said on Monday that the reform was “vital” to ensure the viability of the pension system.
Some resigned amid a deal between Macron’s ruling coalition and his conservative rivals from the left, who are more open to pension reforms.
Matthieu Jacquot, 34, who works in the luxury sector, said: “There is no point in the strike. This bill will be passed anyway.”
The challenge for unions, who will announce more industrial action later in the day, will be to walk off the job at a time when high inflation is eroding wages.
Although the number of protests appeared to be increasing, some preliminary data showed that participation in the strikes had decreased since January 1st. 19.
A union source said around 36.5% of rail operator SNCF workers were on strike at noon – about 10% less than on January 10. 19 – even if the disruption of the trains is largely similar.
EDF aid group (EDF.PA) from 44.5% to 40.3% of employees said they were on strike.
Unions and companies sometimes disagreed on whether this strike was more or less successful than the previous one. For TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA)fewer workers oil refineries had downed the tools, but CGT said there were more.
At the local level, some declared “Robin Hood” operations are unauthorized by the government. In the south-western Lot-et-Garonne region, the local CGT union branch cut power to several speed cameras and turned off smart energy meters.
“When there is such massive opposition, it would be dangerous for the government not to listen,” said Mylene Jacquot, general secretary of the CFDT’s civil servants division.
Pension system reform It will provide an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions, according to Labor Ministry estimates. Unions say there are other ways to raise revenue, such as taxing the super-rich or asking employers or wealthy pensioners to contribute more.
“This reform is unfair and cruel,” said Luc Farre, general secretary of the civil servants’ union UNSA.
French power supply Electricity was down about 5%, or 3.3 gigawatts (GW), as workers at nuclear reactors and thermal plants joined the strike, according to EDF.
TotalEnergies said deliveries of oil products from its sites in France had been suspended but that customers’ needs were being met.
The government made some concessions while drafting the bill. Macron originally wanted the retirement age to be set at 65, and the government is promising a minimum pension of 1,200 euros a month.
Additional reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Forrest Crellin, Benjamin Mallet, Stephane Mahe, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Leigh Thomas, Michel Rose, Bertrand Boucey; Written by Ingrid Melander and Richard Lough; Edited by Janet Lawrence and Mark Heinrich
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