France: More than 1 million people marched against raising the retirement age

France: More than 1 million people marched against raising the retirement age
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PARIS (AP) — At least 1.1 million people protested in the streets of Paris and other French cities Thursday amid nationwide strikes against plans to raise the retirement age — but President Emmanuel Macron insisted he would press ahead with proposed pension reforms.

Emboldened by the massive show of resistance, French unions announced new strikes and protests in January. 31, the government promised to try to withdraw from its plans Raise the standard retirement age from 62 to 64. Macron says the measure – a central pillar of his second term – is needed to keep the pension system financially sustainable, but unions say it threatens hard-fought workers’ rights.

out of the country for a French-Spanish summit in BarcelonaMacron acknowledged the public outcry but said “we have to do this reform” to “save” French pensions.

“We will do it with respect, in the spirit of dialogue, but also with determination and responsibility,” he said.

As Macron spoke, riot police retreated against some protesters who threw projectiles at the edge of the largely peaceful Paris march. Some other minor incidents flared up briefly and officers were forced to use tear gas.

The Paris police said that 38 people gathered on the streets of the capital despite the freezing rain, and the crowd was so big that it took hours to reach their destination. Retirees and college students joined the diverse crowd, united by fear and anger at the reform.

in a country that population aging and increased life expectancy Where everyone receives a state pension, Macron’s government says reforms are the only way to keep the system solvent.

Unions instead propose a tax on employers’ wealth or more payroll to fund the pension system.

Polls show a majority of French people oppose the reform, and Thursday was the first public reaction to Macron’s plan. The strikes severely disrupted transport, schools and other public services, with more than 200 rallies around France.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs said that more than 1.1 million people protested, including 80 thousand in Paris. Trade unions said that more than 2 million people across the country and 400 thousand people participated in Paris.

Large crowds have gathered to protest previous efforts at pension reform, particularly during Macron’s first term and under former president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010. But none of them attracted more than 1 million people, according to government estimates.

Jean Paul Cachina, 56, who works in human resources, took part in the march in the French capital for the first time for him.

“I’m not here for myself,” he said. “I am here to stand up for young people and workers in demanding jobs. “I work in the construction industry sector and I am a first-hand witness of the suffering of the workers.”

The Paris crowd included many young people, including high school students.

Nathan Arsac, 19, a student and member of the UNEF trade union, said: “I’m afraid of what will happen next. Losing our social accomplishments can happen very quickly. I’m afraid of the future when I get old and have to retire.”

Sylvie Béchard, a 59-year-old nurse, said she joined the march “because we, the health workers, are physically tired”.

“All we have is to demonstrate and block the country’s economy,” he said.

The economic cost of Thursday’s strikes was not immediately clear, but extended layoffs could derail the economy as France battles inflation and tries to boost growth.

Police unions opposed to pension reform also took part in the protests, while on-duty workers tried to quell the scattered riots.

Most train services around France were suspended, including some international connections, and around 20% of flights from Paris’ Orly airport were cancelled.

The Education Ministry said more than a third of teachers were on strike, and national electricity company EDF announced on Thursday a significant reduction in power supplies amid the strikes.

The Palace of Versailles was closed on Thursday, the Eiffel Tower warned of potential disruptions and the Louvre Museum closed some exhibition rooms.

Philippe Martinez, general secretary of the left-wing CGT union, called on Macron to “listen to the street”.

Laurent Berger, head of the more moderate CFDT union, called the reform “unjust” and said Thursday’s demonstration of resistance was a warning sign.

Many French workers expressed mixed feelings about the government’s plan and pointed to the complexity of the pension system.

Quentin Coelho, 27, a Red Cross worker, felt he had to work on Thursday despite understanding “many of the demands of the strikers”. Coelho said he fears the government will continue to raise the retirement age, so he is already saving for his pension.

Others worry that the reform will hit lower-income workers, who live less long than the wealthy, harder.

“This is a social issue. Want to retire the sick, broken and even some dead? Or do you want to enjoy life?” asked 45-year-old railway worker Fabien Villedieu.

French Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt acknowledged the “concerns” caused by the pension plans, but said the government had rejected other options of raising taxes – which he said would hurt the economy and cut jobs – or cut pensions.

The French government officially presented the pension bill on Monday and will go to parliament next month. Its success will depend in part on the scale and duration of strikes and protests.

Most opposition parties, including the left and extreme right, strongly oppose this plan. Macron’s centrist alliance lost its parliamentary majority last year but still has the largest group in the National Assembly, where it hopes to ally with the conservative Republican party to approve pension reforms.

Under the planned changes, workers must have worked for at least 43 years to qualify for a full pension. For those who don’t meet that condition, such as many women who put their careers on hold to raise children or who start working late after a long period of study, the retirement age will remain unchanged at 67.

Those who started work under the age of 20 and workers with serious health problems will be able to retire early.

Protracted strikes greeted Macron’s latest attempt to raise the retirement age in 2019. He eventually took it back after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Pension rules vary widely from country to country, making direct comparisons difficult. The official retirement age in the United States is currently 67, and all European countries are raising the retirement age as populations grow and productivity declines.

But opponents of Macron’s reforms point out that the French system already requires people to work longer than in some neighboring countries to receive a full pension. The plan is also seen by many as threatening the welfare state at the heart of French society.


Alexander Turnbull, Oleg Cetinic and Angela Charlton contributed to this report in Paris.

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