- Reform to raise retirement age from 62 to 64
- Schools, transport network, refinery deliveries affected
- Macron: Reforms essential to ensure pension system viability
PARIS, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Huge crowds marched across France on Tuesday to say “no” to President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to make people work longer before retirement , with mounting pressure on the streets, the opposition government said it would stand its ground.
Opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of French people oppose raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, a move Macron said was “critical” to ensuring the viability of the pension system.
In Paris, while police and union estimates vary widely, they all agree that numbers have risen since January 19, the first day of nationwide protests against the reforms.
This is true in most of France. In the western city of Nantes, for example, authorities said 23,000 people took to the streets, up from 17,000 on Monday.
“It’s better than the 19th … it’s a real message to the government that we don’t want 64 years,” Laurent Berger, head of France’s largest trade union CFDT, said ahead of the Paris march.
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Many marched behind banners that read “No Reform” or “We Won’t Give Up,” saying they would take to the streets as often as needed to get the government to back down.
“It’s easy for the president. He sits on a chair…he can even work until he’s 70,” bus driver Isabelle Texier said at a protest in Saint-Nazaire on the Atlantic coast said in. “We can’t ask the roof layer to work until 64, that’s just not possible.”
Striking workers disrupted French refinery deliveries, public transport and schools, although in several sectors there were fewer strikes on Tuesday than on Friday as the cost of living crisis made it harder to skip a day’s wages.
For unions that look likely to announce more industrial action later in the day, the challenge will be to sustain strikes at a time when high inflation erodes wages.
Some 36.5% of SNCF rail operator workers were on strike by noon – down nearly 10% from Jan. 19 – even though disruptions to train traffic were largely similar, a union source said. .
On the rail network, only one-third of high-speed TGV trains operate, and even fewer local and regional trains. Services on the Paris Metro are in disarray.
Utilities group EDF (EDF.PA) said 40.3 percent of workers were on strike, down from 44.5 percent. The ministry also said fewer teachers were leaving.
Unions and companies have sometimes disagreed over whether the strike was more or less successful than the last. For TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA), fewer tools were downed among workers at its refineries, but CGT said there were more.
In any case, French power supply fell by around 5%, or 3.3 gigawatts (GW), as workers at nuclear reactors and thermal power plants joined the strike, EDF data showed.
TotalEnergies said it had stopped shipments of petroleum products from its French plants, but was meeting customer demand.
The government said raising the retirement age to 64 was “non-negotiable”.
Some felt resigned as they bargained with conservative opponents who were open to pension reform as the reforms put to the test Macron’s ability to push for change as he has lost his majority in parliament.
“There is no point in going on strike. The bill will be adopted anyway,” said Matthieu Jacquot, 34, who works in the luxury goods industry.
The reform of the pension system will increase annual pension contributions by an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion), according to Labor Ministry estimates. Unions say there are other ways to boost revenues, such as taxing the super-rich, or demanding more money from employers or wealthy pensioners.
“This reform is unfair and cruel,” said Luc Farr, general secretary of the UNSA union of civil servants.
At the local level, some have announced Operation Robin Hood without government authorization. In the Lot-et-Garonne region in the southwest, the local branch of the CGT union cut power to several speed cameras and disabled smart meters.
“When the opposition is so loud, it’s dangerous for the government not to listen,” said Mylene Jacquot, secretary general of the CFDT civil servants branch.
Additional reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Forrest Crellin, Benjamin Mallet, Alain Acco, Layli Foroudi, Stephane Mahe, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Leigh Thomas, Michel Rose, Bertrand Boucey; Written by Ingrid Melander and Richard Lough; Janet Lawrence, Mark Heinrich and Edited by Gareth Jones
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