The unions have tried to paralyze France on Tuesday in protest of the unpopular pension reform, the main project of Emmanuel Macron in his second five-year term as president of the Republic. The strike in the subway and railways, refineries, education and the metallurgical industry, among other sectors, and the more than 300 demonstrations throughout the country represent the biggest challenge to Macron since the protests began in January.
The day has not blocked the country, but it has caused significant disruptions in transport, and has brought hundreds of thousands to the streets against the increase in the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. Above all, it has served to confirm that the social movement is not faltering. The malaise threatens to mark a good part of the rest of Macron’s term, re-elected last June for five more years.
The novelty of the sixth day of mobilizations is the will of the organizers to “stop” the country and the announcement of strikes not only for one day, but prolonged for a longer time, in transport and energy. The mobilization coincides with the examination of the reform in the Senate, controlled by the moderate right of Los Republicanos (LR), after the hectic passage of the text through the National Assembly, where Macron’s supporters form the first bloc in number of deputies, but they lack an absolute majority.
The objective of the conveners was to exceed the number of protesters on January 31, when 1.27 million people took to the streets of the cities and towns of France, according to the police, and 2.5, according to the unions. According to the CGT union, 700,000 people demonstrated in Paris, the highest number of the six days of demonstrations. One in three school and institute teachers and teachers has joined the strike, according to the Ministry of National Education. One in four state officials joined the strike, according to the Ministry of Public Administration.
Some union actions began before Tuesday, with reductions in electricity production since the weekend and blockades of carriers on roads since Monday. The strike affects rail transport: only one in five high-speed trains work within France and none to Spain. Flights from French airports are expected to be reduced by 20-30%. In Paris and its periphery, the circulation of the metro and suburban trains have been reduced by at least half. The authorities have recommended that the French telework.
The massive demonstration in Paris, between the boulevard Raspail, and the place de l’Italie, brought together Parisians of all ages and social status, and not just the usual union activists. The presence of young people and university students stood out.
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The list of posters reflected the demands: “I want to retire before I catch cancer.” “Raise wages, not the retirement age.” “Yeah, the sex is fine, but have you tried retirement?” “Living better: no to retirement at 64”. “After 64, 68″. This last poster alluded to May 1968, the last massive worker and student revolt in a country with a deep-rooted revolutionary tradition.
When the demonstration had not yet ended, violent incidents were recorded. Law enforcement officers arrested 11 people.
“It is not a protest only against pensions, but against Macron and his way of thinking, his ideology, which no longer corresponds to what the French expect,” said Cristobal, a 28-year-old educator. “It is the ideology of working harder to produce things we don’t need, the ideology of increasing social inequalities around the world, the ideology of privatization and competition, the ideology of making people compete with each other all over the world. while, creating a somewhat nauseating atmosphere in society.
The day of blockades is a test for Macron and for the unions and opponents of the reform. It may happen that it is a last attempt, spectacular but unsuccessful, to stop it and that it does not convince the president to withdraw it and end up approving it. The other scenario is that the demonstrations and the impact of the blockades on the economy and society force him to withdraw it or at least correct its central points.
“There is a right to strike, but using words like bringing the French economy to its knees seems serious to me,” Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said on Monday. Laurent Berger, general secretary of the moderate CFDT union, lamented in France Inter the lack of availability of Macron to negotiate: “The President of the Republic cannot continue to turn a deaf ear (to the rejection of the reform).”
Macron justifies the increase in the retirement age to 64 due to the aging of the population and the need to balance the accounts as there are fewer and fewer workers to cover the pensions of more retirees. He argues that working two more years is the only way to maintain this pillar of the welfare state.
The detractors of the reform (the unions, the left-wing parties and the extreme right) argue that it is socially unfair and that it will penalize people who started working at a younger age, with lower wages and with jobs that are more physically demanding. They argue that it erodes the French social model.
The feeling among the protesters in Paris was ambivalent. On the one hand, a persistent rejection of the reform: nearly 70% of French people oppose the reform, according to polls. At the same time, a certain fatalism has set in: the idea that, no matter how many protests and strikes there are, the reform has already been decided and Macron will not back down.
“I’m quite a pessimist,” admitted Caroline, a 46-year-old woman who attended the Paris march with her two teenage children. “I am here to support difficult jobs. I work in an office, for me it is possible to work until I am 65. But people with jobs that wear out, it is indecent and scandalous to ask them to work more when their back hurts or they are sick”.
The legislative process is being complicated. On February 18, the deadline for debates in the National Assembly expired without there being time to proceed to a vote. Now the law has gone to the Senate and, if it is approved there, it will have to agree on a joint text with the National Assembly that will then be submitted to a vote by both Chambers.
The deadline to adopt the law at the end of March. If the macronistas do not obtain a majority, the Government has the option of imposing it through article 49.3 of the Constitution, which allows the debates to end and adopt it unless a motion of censure brings down the Executive. But then it will risk further inflaming the spirits in the unions, the opposition and the street.
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