- The government wants to raise the retirement age by two years to 64
- Railways, schools and oil refineries are among those affected by the strike
- Macron’s reformist credentials are in dispute
- Polls show that there is widespread opposition to pension reforms
NICE/TOURS, Jan 19 (Reuters) – French workers went on strike and marched across the country on Thursday, halting trains and cutting electricity. national day Those protesting the government’s plan to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.
The shutdowns are a major test for President Emmanuel Macron, who says his pension reform plan, which opinion polls show is deeply unpopular, is vital to ensuring the system does not collapse.
Pushing back the retirement age by two years and extending the payout period would bring in an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.1 billion) in annual pension contributions, leaving the system in tatters by 2027, according to Labor Ministry estimates.
“This reform is necessary and fair,” Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt told LCI TV.
However, the protesters did not agree with this.
“Wages and pensions must be raised, not the retirement age,” read a large banner carried by workers who started a protest march in the western French city of Tours.
Isabelle, 53, a social worker, said her job was too difficult to add another two years, saying: “If the reform passes, I will have to prepare my walking frame.”
Brigitte Meny, an early retiree, said she was protesting in solidarity with her former colleagues.
“Sixty-four is too old,” he said. “I’m here because I’m tired of Macron.”
In the southern French city of Nice, a large banner read “No to Reform”.
Unions argue that there are other ways to keep the pension system viable, such as taxing the super-rich or increasing contributions from employers or well-off pensioners.
The challenge for them is to convert the anti-reform opposition – and anger over the cost-of-living crisis. mass social protest may eventually force the government into tactical changes.
Union leaders are expected to announce more strikes and protests evening, said Thursday was just the beginning.
“We need a lot of people to join the protests,” Laurent Berger, head of France’s largest trade union CFDT, told BFM TV. The people are against this reform… it should be shown (on the streets).”
The pension reform still needs to pass parliament, where Macron has lost his absolute majority but hopes to be passed with the support of conservatives.
Train drivers, teachers and oil refinery workers are among those who are out of work. France Inter radio played a music playlist instead of regular programs, and bus drivers and civil servants also went on strike.
Rail operator SNCF said only between a third and a fifth of high-speed TGV lines were running, with almost no local or regional trains running.
Some metro stations in Paris were closed and traffic was severely disrupted with few trains running.
At the busy Gare du Nord station, people rushed to catch the few trains that were still running, while workers in yellow vests helped bewildered passengers.
Beverly Gahinet, a restaurant worker who missed work because her train was canceled, said she agreed with the strike even if she didn’t participate.
But not everyone was so understanding.
“I don’t understand, it’s always the same (people) who go on vacation … and we have to tighten it up,” real estate worker Virginie Pinto said as she struggled to find a meter to get to work.
A 2007 ban on feral cats and restrictions on strikes to ensure minimum public services limit unions’ ability to thwart governments’ reform ambitions.
The fact that working from home has become more common since the pandemic may also have an impact.
TAXING THE RICH?
Public sector workers are often at the forefront of strikes and seven out of 10 primary school teachers have walked out, with unions saying the Education Ministry gave lower figures.
In Paris, students closed at least one high school in support of the strike action.
EDF and network operator RTE showed the data electricity production has decreased with about 12% of its total energy supply, forcing France to increase imports.
Shipments blocked at TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) Refineries in France, union and company officials said. TotalEnergies chief executive Patrick Pouyanne said Wednesday was a day of strikes. will not disrupt the operation of the oil refinerybut that could change if the protests continue.
The impact on air traffic was mainly limited to a roughly 20% drop in flights at Orly, Paris’s second largest airport. Air France said it operates all long-haul flights and 90% of short- and medium-haul flights.
Macron and several ministers, meanwhile, were in Barcelona on Thursday to meet with Spanish officials.
Dominique Vidalon, Michaela Cabrera, Dominique Vidalon, Yiming Woo, Antony Paone, Tassilo Hummel, Forrest Crellin, Juliette Jabkhiro Paris, Eric Gaillard Cannes, Marine Strauss by Brussels; Written by Ingrid Melander; Edited by Nick Macfie
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