France hit by new wave of strikes against Macron’s pension reform

  • The reform raises the retirement age from 62 to 64
  • Schools, transport networks, oil refineries were damaged
  • Macron: Reform is essential to ensure the stability of the pension system

PARIS, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Striking workers disrupted supplies at French refineries, public transport and schools in a second day of protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to keep people working longer until they retire.

Crowds marched across French cities to condemn the reform, which raised the retirement age to 64 by two years, and Macron will try to make changes after losing his working-class majority in parliament.

Only one in three high-speed TGV trains operated on the railway networks, and even fewer local and regional trains. Services on the Paris Metro were disrupted.

Many of those who marched behind banners saying “There is no way to reform” or “We will not surrender” said that they will go to the streets as often as necessary to give up the government.

“We won’t drive until we’re 64!” said bus driver Isabelle Texier at a protest in Saint-Nazaire on the Atlantic coast.

“It’s easy for the president. He sits in a chair…, he can work until he’s 70, even,” he said. “We can’t require roof layers to work until they’re 64, it’s impossible.”

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After January 19, when more than a million people took to the streets in the first national strike, unions said early data from protests across the country showed higher turnout.

“This is better than 19 years … This is a real message to the government, we don’t want 64 years,” Laurent Berger, head of France’s largest union CFDT, said ahead of the march in Paris.

Opinion polls show the vast majority of French people oppose the reform, but Macron intends to stick to his position. The reform is “crucial” to ensure the viability of the pension system, he said on Monday.

Some resigned amid bargaining between Macron’s ruling alliance and conservative opponents who are more open to pension reform than the left.

“There is no point in going on strike. This bill will be passed anyway,” said Mathieu Jaccot, 34, who works in the luxury industry.


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For unions, which will announce more industrial action later in the day, the challenge is to keep the streets marching at a time when high inflation is driving down wages.

Although the number of protests appears to have increased, some preliminary data showed that participation in the strike on Tuesday, January 19, has decreased.

About 36.5% of workers at SNCF rail operators went on strike at midday, down 10% from January 19, even though train disruptions were almost identical, a union source said.

Utilities group EDF ( EDF.PA ) said 40.3% of workers were on strike, up from 44.5%.

Unions and companies disagree on whether the strike was more or less successful than before. For TotalEnergies ( TTEF.PA ), the number of workers at its refineries was lower, but CGT said the number was higher.


At the local level, some have announced “Robin Hood” operations that are not sanctioned by the government. In the southwestern Lot-et-Garonne region, a branch of the local CGT union shut down several speed cameras and switched off smart electricity meters.

“With such massive opposition, it would be dangerous for the government not to listen,” said Mylene Jaccot, general secretary of the CFDT’s civil service division.

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Reforming the pension system will provide an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension benefits, according to the Labor Ministry. Unions say there are other ways to raise revenue, such as taxing the super-rich or requiring employers or well-off pensioners to contribute more.

“This reform is unfair and cruel,” said Luc Farré, general secretary of civil servants’ union UNSA.

France’s electricity was down about 5%, or 3.3 gigawatts (GW), as workers at nuclear reactors and thermal plants went on strike, EDF data showed.

TotalEnergies said supplies of oil products from its French sites had been suspended, but that customers’ needs had been met.

In developing the draft law, the government allowed some concessions. Macron originally set the retirement age at 65, and the government is also promising a minimum pension of 1,200 euros a month.

Additional reporting by Sybil de La Hamaide, Forrest Crellin, Benjamin Mallet, Stéphane Mahé, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Leigh Thomas, Michel Rose, Bertrand Boucy; Written by Ingrid Melander and Richard Lough; Edited by Janet Lawrence and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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