April 14, 2024

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France has been hit by a new wave of strikes to protest Macron's pension reform

France has been hit by a new wave of strikes to protest Macron’s pension reform

  • The reform would raise the retirement age to 64
  • Schools, transport networks and refineries were damaged
  • Macron: Reform is vital to ensure the continuity of the pension system

SAINT NAZARE, France (Reuters) – Strikers disrupted shipments to French refineries, public transport and schools on Tuesday, the second day of nationwide protests over President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to make people work longer before retiring.

Crowds marched through cities across France to denounce the reform that raised the two-year retirement age to 64, a test of Macron’s ability to push through change now that he has lost his working majority in parliament.

On the railway networks, only one in three high-speed trains were running, and even fewer local and regional trains. Services on the Paris metro were thrown into chaos.

Building on their success earlier in the month when more than a million people took to the streets, trade unions that had been struggling to maintain their power and influence urged the public to turn out in droves.

“We won’t drive until I’m 64!” Bus driver Isabelle Texier said at a protest in Saint-Nazaire on the Atlantic coast, adding that many professions involve difficult working conditions.

Others felt resigned to a potential bargain between Macron’s ruling coalition and conservative opponents who are more open to pension reform than the left.

“There is no point in going on strike. This law will be adopted anyway,” said Mathieu Jacot, 34, who works in the luxury sector.

Unions said half of all primary school teachers had left their jobs. Total energy (TTEF.PA) The hard-left CGT union said 55% of its workers on morning shifts at its refineries had their tools down, a lower number than on Jan. 19.

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For unions, the challenge will be maintaining strike action at a time when high inflation is eroding salaries.

And on a local level, some have declared “Robin Hood” operations not authorized by the government. In the southwest region of Lot-et-Garonne, the local CGT union branch has cut power to several speed cameras and disabled smart energy meters.

“When there is such massive opposition, it would be dangerous for the government not to listen,” said Mylene Jacot, general secretary of the CFDT’s civil servants branch.

Opinion polls show that a large majority of the French oppose reform, but Macron intends to stick to his position. On Monday, he said the reform was “vital” to ensuring the continuity of the pension system.

A street march takes place in Paris later in the day.

‘cruel’

According to estimates by the Labor Ministry, the pension reform will bring in an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions.

Unions say there are other ways to raise revenue, such as taxing the super-rich or asking employers or well-to-do retirees to contribute more.

“This reform is unfair and brutal,” said Luke Farr, Secretary General of the UNSA Civil Servants Union. “Going (retirement age) to 64 is socially regressive.”

The French power source is down 4.5%, or 3 gigawatts, as workers at nuclear reactors and thermal plants join the strike, data from utility group EDF. (EDF.PA) show up.

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TotalEnergies said shipments of petroleum products from its French sites had been halted because of the strike, but customer needs were being met.

The government made some concessions while drafting the legislation. Macron originally wanted to set the retirement age at 65, while the government also promised a minimum pension of 1,200 euros per month.

Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne said the threshold of 64 was “non-negotiable”, but that the government was exploring ways to offset some of the impact, particularly on women.

Hard-left oppositionist Jean-Luc Melenchon, a staunch critic of reform, said parliament would debate on Monday a motion calling for a referendum on the issue.

“The French are not stupid,” he said at a rally in Marseille. “If this reform is vital, it is possible to convince people,” he added.

(Reporting by Forest Crelin, Benjamin Mallet, Sudeep Kar-Gupta, Lee Thomas, Blandine Henault, Michelle Rose, Dominique Vidalon, Benoit van Overstraeten; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Richard Loew; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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