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Pension reform decried | More than a million French demonstrate across the country

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(Paris) Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marching across the country, very disrupted transport on the rail network and in Paris, closed schools: France faced a day of massive strike on Thursday against the pension reform project, a test for President Emmanuel Macron in a tense economic and social context.

The project and its flagship measure, the postponement of the retirement age to 64, against 62 today, is coming up against a united trade union front and broad hostility in public opinion according to the polls.

In the Parisian procession, signs proclaim “Metro, job, tomb” or “Metro, job, vault”.

“It’s not so much for me, because I’m a manager, I started working at 25 so anyway, even without the reform, I retire at 65. But it is out of solidarity because it is a completely unfair reform and which strongly disadvantages the working classes, ”said Damien Mathieu, 36, an IT employee, demonstrating in Toulouse (south-west).


PHOTO LIONEL BONAVENTURE, FRANCE PRESS AGENCY

A demonstrator holds up a sign with the slogan: “Metro, work, vault”.

Protesters pounded the pavement Thursday morning in many French cities, before the Parisian procession set off in the early afternoon to say “no” to the decline in the legal retirement age.

The Ministry of the Interior has identified 1.12 million demonstrators in France, including 80,000 in Paris, he announced Thursday evening.

Earlier Thursday, the CGT union advanced for its part the figure of “more than two million” demonstrators, declared its secretary general, Philippe Martinez, for whom this pension reform “channels all the discontent” in France.


PHOTO BART BIESEMANS, REUTERS

Overview of Place de la Republique

More than 200 demonstrations took place in Paris and in the regions, mostly peaceful. A few clashes, tensions or damage were reported in Paris, Lyon (east) and Rennes (west).

The mobilization “is beyond what we thought”, welcomed the number one of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger.

Fears of being “worn out”

The processions brought together many public or private workers fearing to be “worn out” or “broken” at 64, such as Nathalie Etchegaray, 48, childminder in Orléans (center).

“I’ve been working for 25 years, I’ve never gone on strike before. The trigger is seeing our older colleagues who have pain everywhere. They have sciatica, back pain, tendonitis in the elbows from carrying the babies,” she explains.

The agents of the public electricity company EDF have cut electricity production, reaching at least the equivalent of twice the consumption of Paris.


PHOTO LEWIS JOLY, ASSOCIATED PRESS

A protester with a French flag faces riot police.

On the side of the refineries, the CGT TotalEnergies had between 70 and 100% of strikers, on most of the group’s sites.

The strike was very popular in transport with almost no regional trains, few high-speed trains (TGV), a slow-moving metro in Paris and a very underserved large suburb.

Many public services are the subject of strike calls, in particular education, where the main union, the FSU, counts 70% of striking teachers in schools and 65% in colleges and high schools.

Emmanuel Macron, whose pension reform is a crucial project of the second five-year term, for which he had committed himself from the campaign for his first term, plays big: his party, which does not have a majority in the National Assembly , could be weakened if the movement were deep and lasting.

This political test for the president comes in a tense economic and social context. The French are suffering the effects of high inflation, at 5.2% on average in 2022, in a country which was shaken during Emmanuel Macron’s first term by the demonstrations of “Yellow Vests” against high prices.

On Thursday, Mr Macron broke his silence on this reform from Barcelona – where he visited as part of a Franco-Spanish summit – and where he said he hoped that the demonstrations in progress in France will take place “without excesses”, while defending a project which, according to him, has already been “democratically validated”.

France is one of the European countries where the legal retirement age is the lowest, without the pension systems being completely comparable.

The government has chosen to extend working hours in response to the financial deterioration of pension funds and the aging of the population. He defends his project by presenting it as a “conveyor of social progress” in particular by upgrading small pensions.



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