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‘Black Thursday’ Strikes In France Over Macron’s Pension Reform

Above Photo: Protesters take part in a demonstration against pension reforms in Montpellier, southern France. Jean Francois Monier/AFP.

French people are angry that the government is lifting the retirement age.

And doing so without a parliamentary vote.

French workers angry that the pension age is being increased blocked access to a terminal at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on a day of nationwide protests.

The demonstrations on Thursday forced some travellers to get there on foot.

Train services were also disrupted and some schools shut while garbage piled up on the streets, and electricity output was cut, as unions pressured the government to withdraw the law that delays retirement by two years, changing it from age 62 to age 64.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising from burning piles of debris blocking traffic on a highway near Toulouse, in southwestern France, and wildcat strikes briefly blocked roads in other cities as well.

The spontaneous protest near the airport’s terminal one would not impact flights, a spokesperson for Aeroports de Paris said.

Protest rallies were scheduled later in the day across the country, including in the northern city of Dunkirk.

President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said the legislation – which his government pushed through the French Parliament without a vote last week – would come into force by year-end despite escalating tensions.

“The best response we can give the president is that there are millions of people on strike and in the streets,” said Philippe Martinez, who leads the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union.

Paul Kantola, a 57-year-old carpenter, told the AFP news agency that he had to wake up at 5am to be able to get to work. However, he said he agreed with the protesters.

“It’s scary to grow old in these conditions. Already when you have a pension it’s not enough to live off,” said Kantola, who lives in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre.

The policy changes accelerate a planned increase in the number of years one must work to draw a full pension.

Protests against the measures have raged since January.

‘Increased Anger’

Most demonstrations have been peaceful, but anger has mounted since the government’s move last week.

The past seven nights have seen spontaneous demonstrations in Paris and other cities, with rubbish bins set ablaze and protesters scuffling with police.

Laurent Berger, the head of France’s biggest union, the moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), told BFM TV the government must withdraw the pension law.

Macron’s comments “increased the anger”, he said.

The schism represents the most serious challenge to Macron since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago.

Polls show a wide majority of French citizens oppose the pension legislation and the decision to push it through without a parliamentary vote.

Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said the government was not in denial about the tensions, but wanted to move on.

“There is a disagreement that will persist on the retirement age. On the other hand, there are many subjects which make it possible to renew a dialogue,” he said, including how companies share their profits with workers.

“Things will be done gradually,” he said.

Macron, 45, is in his second and final term, and says he’s convinced that France’s retirement system needs reform to keep it financed.

Opponents proposed other solutions, including higher taxes on the wealthy or companies, which Macron, a former economy minister, says would hurt the financial system.

Zane Lilley of The Connexion reports on the disruptions caused by the strike:

Rail

  • France rail operator SNCF says one-in-three regional TER trains are running on Thursday.
  • One-in-two TGV or Ouigo services are in operation, it added.
  • Eurostar has cancelled eight trains on Thursday, including six between London and Paris. Click here for details.
  • Only two metro lines in Paris are running a normal service on Thursday.
  • It comes after RATP unions had promised Paris commuters a “black” Thursday.

Air

  • France’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation has warned there will be disruption until Friday (March 24) morning.
  • It says to expect cancellations and delays to flights at Paris-Orly, Marseille-Provence, Lyon and Toulouse.
  • It advises passengers to contact their airline for more information. It also asked passengers to delay their flights, if possible.

Roads and refineries

  • Several departments in the south of France have introduced limits on how much petrol can be bought, amid fears of shortages.
  • Prefects in Gard, Vaucluse, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Var and Bouches-du-Rhône have introduced restrictions.
  • The restrictions will apply until at least Friday (March 24).
  • Strike action at several of France’s refineries is putting pressure on supplies.
  • Tuesday saw the first requisitioning of refinery workers at the Fos-sur-Mer plant near Marseille, allowing some activity to resume.
  • While fewer than 10% of petrol stations in France have reported shortages, the situation is worse in the south.

Ports

  • P&O Ferries said services were delayed departing Dover and Calais on Thursday due to “industrial action in France”. Follow live updates here.

Schools

  • Between 40 and 50% of primary school teachers will be on strike Thursday (March 23), according to the teaching union Snuipp-FSU.
  • The union expects strong walkouts in Paris and departments such as Bouches-du-Rhône, Pyrénées-Orientales and Haute-Vienne.
  • Meanwhile, exam invigilators went on strike on Wednesday, severely disrupting exams for the baccalauréat.
  • More than 500,000 students have been affected by the strikes, with the exams accounting for around one-third of the bac qualification.

Refuse workers

  • Refuse workers in Paris are continuing their strike until at least Monday (March 27).
  • As ‘requisitioned’ striking workers began to return to work, rubbish in the affected Paris arrondissements is slowly being removed from the streets.
  • “It will take one or two weeks to clear everything,” said Delphine Bürkli, mayor of the affected 9th arrondissement, as over 10,000 tons of rubbish remains on Paris’ streets.
  • Refuse workers are also striking in a number of larger French cities such as Marseille, Nantes, and Angers.

Radio

  • France Bleu, a network of regional and local radio, announced on Wednesday morning that it would be unable to broadcast all its planned programmes due to an ongoing strike.
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