Nationwide strikes continue to cause serious disruptions in France

Demonstrators once again took to the streets of France on Wednesday decrying President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64.

Trade unions have called for rolling, open-ended strikes in a bid to bring the country to halt.

French train and metro drivers, refinery workers, and garbage collectors continued their industrial action for the second straight day in what unions see as the biggest show of force against the planned changes since the beginning of the movement in January.

Some 1.2 million people took part in the protests on Tuesday.

Crowds of people marched in the port city of Marseille on International Women’s Day alongside France’s Unbowed party leader Jean-Luc Melenchon who said that women will sacrifice the most if the reforms are approved.

“I would like to remind you that 8 March was the day that triggered the Russian revolution, it is not a day like any other,” he said.

And here we are once again at a time when 8 March corresponds to an overall struggle of our people: the right to retirement and the refusal of retirement at 64 years of age, knowing that those who are going to pay the highest price for this reform are women

Jean-Luc Melenchon

This is an indisputable fact since everything is done to lengthen the time during which people are obliged to work, and shortened careers are mainly women’s careers,” he added.

Feminist activists see the pension reform as unfair to women, especially because they say it would further deepen gender inequalities.

Heavy rail disruptions continued in Paris but according to the rail company SNCF,  there were more trains running on Wednesday compared to Tuesday which saw only one in five high speed trains running, compared to one in three the day after.

Commuters also complained of disruptions in Lyon: “I was with my daughter, I have to go back to Annecy, my daughter to Montpellier, so there you go, trains cancelled. We had to cancel our trains, pay for tickets again, reimbursement, of course, we had to wait, so there you have it, it was a nightmare,” said one traveller.

Trains to Spain have also come to a halt and some cancellations have affected services to and from UK and Belgium.

A fifth of flights have been cancelled at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and about a third at Orly Airport.

Oil shipments in the country were halted for a second consecutive day amid strikes at the refineries of TotalEnergies and Esso ExxonMobil, according to the CGT union.

Striking dockers occupy a road leading to the port of Bayonne with a banner reading “Dockers striking, dead port” in Tarnos, southwestern France, Wednesday, March 8, 2023.AP Photo

Regardless Macron has vowed to go ahead with the bill, which he presents as key to his pro-businesses economic policies.

“It’s for our young people, for those of my age too because I’m also affected by the reform and I understand it, but the problem is that my feeling is that it’s useless because he doesn’t listen, he doesn’t care, the president doesn’t care because even if he makes a slight effort, it’s not necessarily for us” complained another demonstrator in Lyon. 

On Thursday, youth organisations representing students who haven’t even entered the workforce yet are seeking to mobilise young people to take to the streets to share concerns about retirement rights.

While the measure has a good chance of winning Senate approval, unions hope that strikes and protests force the government to make concessions as the bill continues its way through the complex legislative process.

“We are aware that the effort required from the French does not win the support from a majority,” government spokesman Olivier Véran said Wednesday. “But we are convinced that alternatives, raising taxes, increasing the (state) debt, decreasing pensions, would not win more the support of the public opinion.”

Opinion polls consistently suggest that most French voters oppose the pension plan.

Véran hoped Article 7 of the bill, which is focusing on raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, will be adopted by the Senate on Wednesday. 

Talks at the French upper house of parliament are scheduled to last until the end of the week.


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