Trade unions are trying to increase pressure on the government, a day after Macron gave a televised interview that drew their ire. The president touted the pension overhaul as the best way to secure the future of France’s generous pension system, in part because of rising life expectancies, and said opponents had to face reality.
Macron defends move to raise retirement age as protests rage in France
The government’s use of executive powers to push through the bill has intensified a standoff with unions, which have drawn large crowds since January but have so far failed to sway Macron.
Rail workers marched onto the tracks at Paris’ Gare de Lyon on Thursday and at the train station in Marseille, where the local branch of a railway workers union vowed to block the running of trains until the pension plan is scrapped.
The country’s civil aviation body warned of disruptions to flights in and out of airports for Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon, urging passengers to delay their journeys and contact airlines.
Outside Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, protesters blocked a highway leading to one of the terminals of one of Europe’s busiest airports. The blockade forced some travelers to reach the airport on foot, French channel BFM TV reported reported.
While tourist attractions including the Eiffel Tower and the Versailles Palace were closed, Transport Minister Clement Beaune tweeted that officials meet in a crisis center to monitor disruptions to public transport “hourly.”
Rolling strikes have also delayed access to refineries and walkouts by trash collectors have left piles of trash bags littering Paris sidewalks this month.
Thursday’s industrial action drew people of different ages, backgrounds and professions, with young people marching shoulder-to-shoulder with older protesters closer to retirement age.
The Education Ministry estimated about a quarter of middle school teachers and about 15 percent of high school teachers went on strike. Students joined the citys including Nantes, where a protester held a sign that read “Sign-makers on strike.” Another picket sign featured a drawing of an outline that said “Long live retirement.”
Photos and videos from Nantes and Rennes in western France showed police using water cannons and tear gas, and protesters setting trash on fire.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has said he ordered the deployment of nearly 12,000 police, including 5,000 in Paris on Thursday. Several earlier protests turned into clashes with police, who detained scores of people in recent days, although few were ultimately charged.
After the government passed the pension bill through the lower house of Parliament without a vote last week, the text now faces scrutiny from the Constitutional Council. However, Macron said the law should come into effect by the end of the year.
With his government surviving two no-confidence votes this week, the test now is whether Macron’s determination can overcome the unions’ ability to bring pressure to the streets.
“Yesterday, the president of the Republic mocked us,” said Marie Buissona senior official in the CGT union confederation, which is at the center of the strikes.
“We will continue” even if the bill is adopted “because what we reject is this reform that forces everyone to work for two additional years,” he said on the radio. “You can clearly see the anger there.”
France protests: What to know as Macron pushes for retirement age hike
The CGT branch in Marseille said an estimated 280,000 people protested Thursday in the southern port city alone, while French media cited police giving a lower estimate of 16,000 protesters in Marseille.
Minister of Labor Olivier Dussopt said The authorities have not denied the crisis but are hopeful that it will be resolved. “There are many topics that could allow for the renewal of a dialogue,” he said, including the way in which companies share profits with workers.
“I don’t believe at all that from one day to the next, within 12 to 24 hours, we can move from a state of impasse to a goal,” he added. “Things will be done gradually.”