Protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age were protested by more than a million people in France. National strikes caused delays in trains and blocked refineries, thereby limiting power generation.
They were encouraged by the success of their strike and called for a second day strike 31 January to force Macron’s government off the tracks on his pension reform plan. This would see most people work an additional two years before they reach age 64.
Unions declared in a joint statement that the government is now “facing the wall with its back.”
“Everybody is aware that raising the retirement age doesn’t benefit either the poor or employers.”
Major protestors are threatening Macron. Macron claimed that his reform of the pension system was just and responsible. He also stated that it was necessary to keep government finances on solid ground. Opinion polls show that most French oppose the measure.
According to the Interior Ministry, 1.1 million protestors marched across France in protest. This number is higher than those who protested Macron’s first attempt at passing the reform in 2019. He abandoned the effort after the COVID pandemic.
Tear gas was used in the aftermath of skirmishes that occurred between police officers and hooded youths on the fringes of Paris’ rally. Several dozen arrests were made.
Workers in Tours (western France) carried a large banner that stated that it was the pensions and salaries that should be increased and not retirement age.
Isabelle, a 53-year-old social worker, stated that she would need to prepare for her walking frame if reform is approved. Her job was too hard to extend for two years.
The government believes that reforming pensions is necessary to stop the system going bankrupt. The Labour Ministry estimates that the system could be broken even by 2027 if the retirement age is raised by two years and the pay-in period increased by EUR17.7 million annually.
Unions argue that there are more options for funding pensions. These options include increasing employer contributions or taxing the super-rich.
This problem can be solved by taxation. Laurent Berger (leader of CFDT, France’s largest labor union) said workers shouldn’t be required to pay for deficits within the public sector.
Unions must transform opposition to reform and anger about the cost of living crisis into , a mass protest which could eventually force the government to reconsider its position.
Union leaders said that Thursday (19 January) was just the beginning.
Macron lost his absolute majority but hopes to pass the pension law with the support of the conservatives.
Elisabeth Borne, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, tweeted: “Let’s continue arguing and convincing.”
Among those who lost their jobs were train drivers, teachers, and workers in refineries. Half of the workers at EDF (the state-run producer of nuclear power) were also affected.
According to SNCF, the disruptions were severe for commuter trains between Paris and high-speed intercity stations.
People raced to catch the last train at Gare Nord station, while yellow vest-clad workers helped frazzled commuters.
Beverly Gahinet (a restaurant worker) was unable to work because her train was cancelled. She claimed that she supported the strike, even if she was not participating.
But not everyone is so understanding.
Virginie Pinto (a real estate worker) said it was always the same people that strike, and she had to endure it while trying to find a Metro station to get to work.
Union members speak about recreating 1995’s spirit when Jacques Chirac’s government requisitioned a tourist boat on Seine to ferry commuters. After weeks of strikes, they also agreed to a pension reform.
However, it is not possible for unions to stop the large amounts of the second largest economy in the Euro zone and force governments into reversing course.
The 2007 ban on wildcat walkouts and the requirement for strikers to guarantee minimum public service have restricted the power of unions in preventing governments from achieving their reform goals. They may be limited by changes in working habits and home-working.
The strike caused a halt to ferry crossings between Calais, Calais, and Dover. This is an important sea route for trade between Britain and Europe.
EDF and RTE data from RTE grid operator showed electricity output had fallenby approximately 10 percent of total power supply. France increased imports because of this.
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