French protesters keep up fight against pension plan in new day of strikes

ssued on: 08/03/2023 by

Text by:FRANCE 24

French train and metro drivers, refinery workers, garbage collectors and others were holding further strikes on Wednesday against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age to 64, in efforts to keep up pressure on the government amid the ongoing parliamentary debate.

France saw new protest actions focused on women – and the retirement reform’s impact on working mothers – to coincide with International Women’s Day. Feminist activists see the pension reform as unfair to women, especially because they say it would further deepen gender inequalities faced during their career. 

Overall, around 1.28 million people took to the streets of France in this sixth day of strike action.

The continuing strikes and protest actions come after more than a million demonstrators marched in cities and towns across France on Tuesday, in what unions see as the biggest show of force against the planned changes since the beginning of the movement in January.

Unions demand the withdrawal of the reform. The bill is under debate in the Senate this week.

On Wednesday morning, train traffic and the Paris metro remained severely disrupted. 

The SNCF rail authority said only one high-speed train in three was expected to circulate across the country. Trains to Spain have come to a halt and some cancellations affect those to and from Britain and Belgium.

A fifth of flights have been canceled at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and about a third at Orly Airport.

Oil shipments in the country were halted for a second consecutive day amid strikes at the refineries of TotalEnergies and Esso ExxonMobil, according to the CGT union.

Paris garbage collectors also decided to continue the strike on Wednesday. 

Blockaded River Rhine

A blockade at a Rhine lock close to Strasbourg was cleared by police and an evacuation of the blockades at the Marckolsheim lock, south of Strasbourg, was underway, CGT representative Fabrice Coudour said.

“Traffic is still interrupted,” an official at EDF’s Gerstheim Rhine lock close to Marckolsheim told Reuters, saying he did not know when it would resume.

Rhine shipping beyond France is being affected, a spokesperson for Germany’s Waterways and Shipping Administration said, including traffic to German ports on the river such as Breisach or Weil am Rhein near the French border, as well as Basel in Switzerland. All traffic to Switzerland via the Rhine route is interrupted, the spokesperson said.

“The whole international Rhine navigation is practically interrupted on this section due to these strikes,” they said.

The Upper Rhine flows through parts of France, Germany and Switzerland. Some stretches of the river have alternative transport routes via road and rail.

Traffic volumes on the Upper Rhine are dwarfed by Lower Rhine traffic to and from the Ruhr region in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s industrial heartland, which lies hundreds of miles to the north and depends on the river for connections to Dutch sea ports.

In addition, workers on strike were blocking access to ports in the western cities of Rouen and Le Havre. 

Calls for Saturday strikes

Macron has vowed to go ahead with the bill, which he presents as key to his pro-businesses economic policies. 

The reform would raise the minimum pension age from 62 to 64 and require 43 years of work to earn a full pension, amid other measures. The government argues the system is expected to dive into deficit within a decade as France’s population ages and life expectancy lengthens.

Left-wing lawmakers say companies and the wealthy should pitch in more to finance the pension system.

Unions have called for a new day of nationwide demonstrations on Saturday. 

On Thursday, youth organisations representing students who haven’t even entered the workforce yet are seeking to mobilise young people to take to the streets to share concerns about retirement rights. 

While the measure has a good chance of winning eventual Senate approval, unions hope that strikes and protests force the government to make concessions as the bill continues its way through the complex legislative process.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and Reuters)