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Unions vow to ramp up strikes with pension protests in France

Paris – Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in France on Saturday, February 11, in a fourth day of action against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, with unions planning to ramp up strikes if the plan is not dropped.

Unlike on the three previous protest days, there was no call for a day of nationwide strikes, although air traffic controllers at Paris’ second airport staged a surprise walkout that resulted in the cancellation of half of the flights.

Protesters hold a banner that reads ‘Pensions, not an extra day, not one euro less’ during a demonstration against the French government’s pension reform plan as part of the fourth day of national protests, in Paris, France, February 11, 2023. Picture: Yves Herman / REUTERS

Macron and his government face a two-way fight to implement the plan to raise to pension age from 62 to 64 by overcoming resistance on the streets and also pushing the legislation through parliament.

The CGT union said that 500,000 people were protesting in Paris alone, higher than the 400,000 it counted on the last protest day on February 7.

The interior ministry, which generally gives much lower numbers, said there were 963,000 protesters nationwide and 93,000 in Paris.

There were protests in other French cities across the country, with television pictures showing police using water cannons in the western city of Rennes.

Protesters in the French capital took the traditional protest route from Republique Square to Nation Square, behind a banner saying: “No to working longer!”.

There were tensions when a car and a bin were overturned and set on fire, prompting shield-wielding police and the fire brigade to intervene.

The march was led by the leaders of France’s eight main unions, keeping up a tight unity that the government has so far been unable to break.

The unions said in a joint statement that they would call for a national strike that would “bring France to a standstill” on March 7 if the government “remained deaf to the popular mobilisation”.

Protesters take part in a torchlight retreat during a demonstration against a pensions reform plan in Bordeaux, south-western France, on February 10, 2023. Picture: Thibaud Moritz / AFP

Another day on of protests and strikes is planned for February 16.

The leader of the hardline CGT, Philippe Martinez, said: “the ball is in the court of the president and the government to determine if the movement intensifies and hardens or if they take into account the current mobilisation.”

Air traffic controllers at Paris Orly airport meanwhile staged an unannounced strike that resulted in the cancellation of 50% of flights from Paris’ number two hub from the afternoon.

And in a move that risks having severe consequences, unions representing workers on the Paris RATP public transport system called for a rolling strike from March 7.

“Despite the rejection by a very large majority of the population, the government remains intent on its brutal, unfair and unjustified reform,” they said.

Speaking in Brussels last week, Macron urged unions to show a “spirit of responsibility” and “not block the life of the rest of the country”.

Macron’s ruling party also faces a challenge to push the legislation through parliament where it lost its overall majority in elections last year.

It needs support from the right-wing opposition to avoid recourse to a potentially explosive constitutional measure that would allow the legislation to be rammed through without a vote.

“I have doubts about Macron, his ability to move, to listen to the people,” said Alfonso Gimeno, a pensioner, who came to Paris to demonstrate with his three children aged 9, 13 and 15.

AFP

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