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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

French retirement age strike hits schools and trains

A man looks at information board for travellers at Gare Montparnasse train station during a strike by French SNCF railway workers in Paris as part of a nationwide day of strike and protests against French government's pension reform plan in France, January 31, 2023Reuters

A nationwide strike is under way in France in a second wave of protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Eight big unions are taking part in the strike, which is disrupting schools, public transport and oil refineries.

Protests are expected across France, after more than a million people took part in the first day of action earlier this month.

Half of primary teachers are on strike.

The Macron government is pushing ahead with its pension age reforms in the face of opinion polls that suggest two-thirds of voters are opposed to the changes, which begin their passage through National Assembly next week.

Without a majority in parliament, the government will have to rely on the right-wing Republicans for support as much as the ruling parties’ own MPs.

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon said France was at a crucial point and predicted an even greater number of protesters than on the first day of action on 19 January. Street protests are expected in all the major cities and in smaller towns too. A reported 11,000 police have been deployed to cover the demonstrations.

There was severe disruption to transport in the Paris area, with one in three high-speed trains running and only two driverless metro lines operating normally. Large crowds were reported on one of the main overground lines in the capital.

The CGT union said at least three-quarters of workers had walked out at the big TotalEnergies oil refineries and fuel depots.

One of the main teachers’ unions said half of all nursery and primary school teachers would be on strike. High school pupils staged protests outside some schools and students said they would occupy Sciences Po university in Paris in support of the strikers.

“A lot of French people feel that working is more and more painful. It’s not that they don’t want to work, they don’t want to work in these conditions,” Sciences Po political scientist Bruno Palier told the BBC.

The government has indicated it may move some way on the detail of the reform but has refused to give in on the main thrust of the raising the retirement age by two years to 64.

Economist Prof Philippe Aghion said the reforms were necessary because France had a structural deficit of some €13bn; £11bn) and raising the retirement age would also help increase the rate of employment in France.

“That will give the government credibility to make some investments that it needs to make in schooling, in the hospital system that it needs to improve, and more investment in innovation and green industrialisation,” he told the BBC.

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