France faces the first big day of strikes and protests this Thursday against the pension reforms unveiled by Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne last week. The project, which proposes raising the retirement age to 64 and accelerating the obligation to contribute from 43 years to receive a full pension, has met with strong public opposition. The unions that have joined forces for the occasion predict a “massive” movement with more than 200 demonstrations across the area, closed schools and paralyzed transport. The French government has announced the deployment of more than 10,000 police officers and has demanded that the mobilization not become a “blockade of the country”. The day of strikes and demonstrations poses a challenge for French President Emmanuel Macron, who is watching the unfolding of the day from Barcelona, where he will meet Pedro Sánchez to sign the Barcelona Treaty, a bilateral agreement between the two countries .
The transport sector is one of the hardest hit. From the morning the railway lines work with interruptions. SNCF, the national railway company, has announced that only one high-speed train will run in three or five journeys. On average, hardly every tenth convoy runs on regional trains. Transport Minister Clément Beaune had warned “from hell” a day ago and called on citizens to telecommute.
In Paris, the capital, subway and train traffic is also experiencing severe disruption. One subway line is completely closed and the others are only partially working, the company announced to RATP. Airports are also affected. In the Paris Orly, one of the most important in France, one in five flights is expected to be canceled due to air traffic controller strikes.
A protester holds a sign that reads ‘Work until 64 and death is our life’. On strike against Macron’s pension plan on January 19 in Nantes, western France. LOIC VENANCE (AFP)After widespread traffic disruptions, the platforms at the Gare de l’Est station in Paris remain empty. Transport workers have also joined the nationwide strike held this Thursday against the new pension plan. Kiran RidleyGettyA man holds a banner during the demonstration in Saint-Nazaire January 19. STEPHANE MAHE (Portal)Demonstrators hold CGT union flags during protests against the pension reform plan in Nice as part of the national strike and protests in France January 19. ERIC GAILLARD (Portal)Crowds of protesters from Saint-Nazaire join the national day of strikes called in France this Thursday to protest pension reform.STEPHANE MAHE (Portal)Workers board up the windows of a shop on Boulevard Beaumarchais ahead of a planned protest in Paris on Thursday January 19. Nathan Laine BloombergVans of the TGV railway network hold a banner on the doors of Paris’ Gare de Lyon train station during the general strike in France January 19. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (AFP)Some high school students hang a banner reading “Retire from Arthritis” on the door of the Turgot Lyceum in Paris as part of the nationwide strike organized this Thursday, January 19. Kiran RidleyGettyDemonstrators wave sparklers during a demonstration against the government’s pension reform plan in Marseille, southern France, Thursday January 19. NICOLAS TUCAT (AFP)A protester holds a sign reading ‘Retire from arthritis’ in Lyon, southeastern France, January 19, 2023. OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE (AFP)
Strikes in refineries and closed schools
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The strikes are also affecting the energy sector, particularly refineries, which launched a protest movement for wage increases back in October, forcing the government to intervene. The manager of the French electricity network RTE has reported a sharp drop in electricity production, according to Agence France Presse. For its part, the CGT union has stated that in most TotalEnergies refineries between 70% and 100% of the workforce are on strike. More strikes are expected in the coming days.
Other industries have announced they will join the anti-reform protest movement, taking the opportunity to call for wage increases in the context of inflation. The Ministry of Education has reported that more than 42% of teachers in primary schools and almost 35% in secondary schools are on strike. The SNES union has announced that in some institutions 80% of teachers are unemployed.
In addition to the strikes, more than 200 demonstrations are planned across the country. The first have already started in cities like Toulouse and Marseille in the south, where the leader of the left-wing France Unsubmissive party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is based. In Paris, the capital, a protest led by representatives of the eight largest unions leaves the Place de la République at 2 p.m.
The Interior Ministry has announced the deployment of 10,000 police officers across the territory, including 3,500 in Paris, where it expects up to 80,000 demonstrators. Unions, united for the first time in 12 years – including the moderate CFDT, the first in France – hope “millions” of people will take to the streets. “(…) When all unions agree, something unusual is that the problem is very serious, said CGT general secretary Philippe Martínez.
A test for Macron
An Ipsos poll published on Wednesday shows that 61% of French people oppose the reform carried out by President Emmanuel Macron, although 81% think the system needs to be reformed. The executive defends that his project aims to balance the pension fund in the face of a growing deficit due to the aging of the population. The reform project has four days to be approved by the Council of Ministers, and its parliamentary process is due to start at the end of this month.
Macron insists he was re-elected by the French to carry out the reform. The president, who is offering a second term, lost an absolute parliamentary majority in the June legislature, forcing him to negotiate any legislation he wants to push. The executive is seeking the support of the Los Republicanos right, who, with their 62 seats, hold the key to reaching the absolute majority threshold required for their approval.
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