Hundreds of thousands of people protested again on Tuesday in the streets of France against the pension reform of President Emmanuel Macron, determined to approve it in Parliament despite growing popular rejection.
The two measures that crystallize the discontent are the progressive delay until 2030 of the retirement age from 62 to 64 years and the advancement to 2027 of the requirement to contribute 43 years – and not 42 as now – to collect a full pension.
“I don’t want to work any longer, I have a hard job and I’ll be broken already at 62 years old. It is not physically or morally viable”, said Sylvie Dieppois, a kitchen helper who protested in Rouen (northwest).
The unknown in this new day of protests is whether the unions will manage to mobilize more people than on January 19, when 1.12 million people demonstrated, according to the authorities — double for the unions.
There are “more people” in the street, said Laurent Berger, leader of the main union, CFDT, before the start of the march in Paris. “According to the information I received, there are more people than 19″, added Philippe Martinez, from the CGT.
Internal intelligence services expect 1.2 million protesters at most. The first figures from the police point to a slightly rising turnout: 13,000 in Rouen, 28,000 in Nantes, 12,000 in Le Havre, etc.
In contrast, public workers on strike were fewer in education — one in four teachers, according to the government; double for the unions–, as well as in the railway company SNCF (36.5%), according to a union source.
The spearhead came this time from the energy sector. Nuclear power plants registered a drop in production of about 3,000 MWh, according to the EDF company. And between 75% and 100% of the personnel at the refineries and TotalEnergies warehouses joined the strike, according to the CGT.
“People’s motion of censure”
The protesters are asking the government to back down from tightening the conditions to access a full pension, but Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne has already warned that the delay to 64 years “it was no longer negotiable”.
The left opposition thus called for a “popular motion of censure” in the streets. “We are living a historic day. Mr Macron is certain to lose”, said its leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who demanded a “referendum” about the project.
With the already announced rejection of the left-wing Nupes front and the extreme right, the government hopes to win key support in Parliament from the right-wing party Los Republicanos (LR), in favor of a reform but divided on whether to support the current one.
Popular rejection, currently around 70% according to polls, does not help. In addition, according to a survey by Odoxa, two out of three French people have a negative opinion of his president and his prime minister.
Since coming to power in 2017, Macron has defended his desire to “shake” the system with its liberal reforms, which sometimes earned it an image of “president of the rich”, as during the social protest of the yellow vests.
The pension reform is key for him. The retirement age in France is one of the lowest in Europe and bringing it closer to that of its neighbors seeks to guarantee future balance in the pension fund, according to this former business banker.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expressed on Monday its support for the reform, which together with the one approved on unemployment insurance, would allow France to reduce its public debt, located above 110% of GDP.
After the pandemic forced it to withdraw a first attempt, the government chose a controversial parliamentary procedure that allows it to apply the current plan if both houses of Parliament do not rule by the end of March.
Deadlines are tight. The National Assembly (lower house) began this week to examine in commission the 7,000 amendments presented to the text, before it goes to the plenary session on Monday and, then, to the Senate (upper house).
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