French unions and protesters took to the streets on Thursday in a large-scale protest against the government’s proposed pension reforms.
President Emmanuel Macron’s administration is pushing to raise France’s official retirement age from 62 — lower than most of Europe and the US — to 64. It is the head of state’s second attempt to overhaul the pension system, after she scrapped a 2019 proposal to introduce a dot- during her first term amid public uproar. Macron cemented his focus on pensions during this New Year’s speech, stressing: “This will essentially be the year of retirement.”
The pension reform is “fair and responsible” and must be implemented, Macron said on Thursday, according to Reuters.
Early indications suggest that the latest bill is just as lackluster for the French public, with 68% appearing “hostile” to the measure, according to the IFOP study.
French trade unions formed a rare common front by agreeing to protest against the bill.
“This reform will fully affect all workers, and especially those who started work early, the most vulnerable, whose life expectancy is lower than the rest of the population and those whose level of work difficulty is not recognized,” the joint statement said. signed by eight syndicates, according to CNBC’s translation.
The organizations will meet on Thursday evening to decide whether to call another protest action.
Rail operator SNCF warned that train travel would be “severely disrupted” by the protests between 7pm local time on January 18 and 8am on Friday. Reuters reports that the SNCF said only one in three to one in five high-speed TGV lines were operating on Thursday, with limited local or regional trains.
Strikes are disrupting transport on the sea route between Calais and Dover.
“We regret to inform you that departures are currently suspended due to a national day of action in France.” P&O Ferries said on Twitterwith services expected to resume Thursday afternoon.
TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne estimated that the short-term one-day mobilization should not lead to fuel shortages:
“The day, tomorrow, will not affect the operation of the refineries. The refineries will stop if there are many days of strike,” he estimated in an interview with BFM TV, as translated by CNBC. “Don’t panic: stocks are full, gas stations well stocked.”
Philippe Martinez, general secretary of the General Confederation of Labor (GCT) trade union, floated the idea of cutting electricity supplies to wealthy France on January 18. On Thursday, he appeared to soften that stance during a public Senate interview when asked if there would be voluntary targeted electricity cuts for lawmakers who support the new pension law:
“It’s not our custom to do that,” he said, describing his earlier remarks as a symbolic gesture rather than a threat. He reiterated his objections to the reform plan and emphasized the unions’ willingness to continue strikes after the first day of strike action: “It’s the first day, so we’ll have another.”
On Wednesday, government spokesman Oliver Veran blasted the perceived threats as “strictly unacceptable,” as translated by CNBC:
He added: “Everything that will cause pressures, threats, insults, whether on social networks or in real life, regarding a targeted intervention against the integrity of the functioning of the parliamentary mandate, is unacceptable in a democracy and a republic, and we condemn it.” “
Laurent Bergere, general secretary of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT), told BFM TV on Thursday that “there must be a lot of people at these protests”.
He noted: “First of all, I expect that the workers of this country who object, and there are many of them, to this project of pension reform—because they object with regard to [raising] the official retirement age at 64 – he’s protesting all over France, in 200 places.”