Strikes, protests hit France over Macron’s pensions plan
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in street demonstrations across France in a second round of coordinated strike action against Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plan to raise the retirement age to 64.
Transport, schools and the energy sector were hit by strike action on Tuesday. Local buses, trains and trams in cities from Paris to Nice, as well as regional and high-speed trains across the country, were “very significantly disrupted”, according to rail operators.
Air France said one in 10 short- and medium-haul services would be cancelled. About half of all nursery and primary school teachers went on strike, according to the main teachers’ union.
Some town halls run by the left closed fully or partially in solidarity with the protests, including Paris city hall, sparking anger from ministers. At the Paris protest, the socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, accused the government of “shamefaced lies” for arguing that pension change was necessary.
Police expected about 1 million people to turn out in street demonstrations in cities and small towns across France, similar to the high turnout on the first day of strikes and protests earlier this month.
On 19 January, more than 1.1 million people marched in the biggest demonstrations over pension changes in over a decade, the largest gathering since the rightwing president Nicolas Sarkozy raised the retirement age from 60 to 62 in 2010.
Polls show that a majority of French people disapprove of Macron’s plan to raise the pension age from 62 to 64, with most people supporting the protests. All major trade unions joined in a rare show of unity, and the large street demonstrations are the first big test of the centrist president’s second term in office.
Macron has repeatedly told French people they “need to work more” and he has made the pensions issue a marker of his aim to transform France and overhaul its social model and welfare system. In recent days, the government has hardened its tone to insist the changes will happen: raising the retirement age for most people and increasing the years of contributions required for a full pension.
The president said on Monday night that the changes were “essential when we compare ourselves to the rest of Europe” and that changes had to be made to “save” the French state pensions system. The French retirement age of 62 is the lowest of any major European economy.
The government has argued that changes are crucial to guarantee the future financing of the pension system, which is forecast to tip into deficit in the next few years. But political opponents and trade unions argue that the system is currently balanced, noting that the head of the independent pensions advisory council told parliament recently that “pension spending is not out of control, it’s relatively contained”.