Tuesday saw disruptions in France’s public transportation, educational institutions, and refinery supplies as trade unions organized a third wave of nationwide strikes against President Emmanuel Macron’s proposals to extend the French workforce’s retirement age.
A day after pension reform legislation started its rocky path through parliament, Tuesday’s multi-sector walkouts represent a test of Macron’s capacity to accomplish change without a working majority in the National Assembly.
The government says people must work two years longer – meaning for most until the age of 64 – in order to keep the budget of one of the industrial world’s most generous pension systems in the black.
The French spend the largest number of years in retirement among OECD countries – a deeply cherished benefit that a substantial majority are reluctant to give up, polls show.
At the start of a protest march in Paris, union leaders Philippe Martinez of the hardleft CGT and Laurent Berger of the moderate CFDT stood side by side to denounce the pension reform.
“This reform will upend the lives of several generations. If the government stubbornly forges ahead, we will step up our protest with longer and harder actions,” Martinez said.
Berger, whose union traditionally takes a more conciliatory stance, rejected sweeteners offered by the government, such as increasing the lowest pensions.
“These concessions are just patches. Increasing the legal retirement to 64 is the core of this reform and it is deeply unfair. It is a democratic folly for the government to turn a deaf ear to the protest,” he said.
Strike participation appeared lower than a week earlier, data showed, but the government will be watching street protests to gauge how strong public opposition remains.
“We’re worn out by work,” pensioner Bernard Chevalier said at a protest in the Riviera city of Nice. “Retirement should be a second life, not a waiting room for death.”
Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt dismissed opposition accusations that the government was in denial over the scale of public protests, and said change was needed.
“The pension system is loss-making and if we care about the system, we must save it,” the minister told RMC radio.