Skip to content
View Featured Image

French Workers Launch Indefinite Strike Against Pension Reforms

Above Photo: Still image of a French protester holding a sign over a vehicle. Screenshot/TRNN.

‘We Must Make Macron Back Down.’

After weeks of targeted strikes, French President Emmanuel Macron refuses to change course on his plans to reform the country’s beloved pension system. Last week, unions across France upped the ante and launched an indefinite strike to force his hand.

So far, after weeks of targeted strikes by workers opposing President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the national retirement age and reform the country’s beloved pension system, the French government has refused to change course. That is why unions across different industries raised the ante last week, launching an indefinite strike until workers’ demands are met. As Eric Challal of the Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques (SUD) Railway Union put it, “We have no choice, we must make Macron back down, make the employers back down. There is no lack of money in this society… Wages are too low, prices are exploding, the high cost of living, the threat of war… We have this opportunity to fight, all the workers together.”

TRNN contributor and video journalist Brandon Jourdan reports from the streets of Paris on the latest escalation of strike actions in France.

This video is part of a special Workers of the World series on the cost of living crisis in Europe.

Producer, Videographer, Editor: Brandon Jourdan
Associate Producer, Translation: Nicolas Lee, Marianne Maeckelbergh
Additional Footage: Getty Images, Ruptly

This story, with the support of the Bertha Foundation, is part of The Real News Network’s Workers of the World series, telling the stories of workers around the globe building collective power and redefining the future of work on their own terms.


Brandon Jourdan (narrator): On March 7th, 2023, the ongoing French strike wave against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms entered a new phase of struggle. It was the largest single day of action in decades, with the unions estimating that 3.5 million people participated,

while the government claimed 1.28 million took part in strikes. With either estimate, the sixth day of national strikes within two months was the largest so far. Since the national strikes have thus far failed to prevent pension reforms from moving forward, tactics have escalated towards continuous strikes in many key sectors after the main day of action.

Eric Sellini, General Confederation of Labor (CGT), TotalEnergies: It is clear that the government continues to implement its plan. There was the presentation in the National Assembly, now it’s in the Senate. We feel that anyway, he’s [Macron] not ready to give up just like that. So, that’s why all the unions, and in particular the CGT, we decided to take the mobilization up a notch and today to mark the beginning of an important phase in terms of mobilization which is the beginning of the continuous strike in many companies across the country.

Brandon Jourdan (narrator): Before the main rally in Paris, railway workers at Gare du Nord held a general assembly to decide whether to continue their strike beyond March 7th.

Eric Challal, SUD Railway Union (speaking before assembly): It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the strength of workers on this scale. We also know, we have all seen it, what happened in Parliament, now in the Senate, we have seen all the parliamentary cinema, we have nothing to expect from it. This is the beginning of a new stage of the movement, the strike, the continuous strike.

What I propose, is therefore that we renew the strike. This is what we did by meeting here at 11:00 am for a general assembly. So tomorrow, the 8th, to continue the strike, until tomorrow 11:00 am and reconvene the general assembly.

Who votes yes?

One, two, three, four…

Comrades, the strike is unanimously renewed!

See you tomorrow at 11:00 am at the general assembly.

Eric Challal, SUD Railway Union (interview): It has been quite some time since we have seen so many people in the streets, millions of people in the provinces, in small and medium-sized cities. For the moment, they [the government] fear this mobilization. But the mobilization has not yet been strong enough to make them back down. That’s why we’re going on continuous strikes.

Brandon Jourdan (narrator): The railway workers joined others who decided to strike beyond a single day, including workers at oil refineries, fuel depots, waste management sites, public transit, ports, transport, and power plants.

Eric Sellini, General Confederation of Labor (CGT), TotalEnergies: Today, there are six refineries in France that refine oil. Three of them are TotalEnergies refineries. All three are at a standstill. There are two ExxonMobil refineries that are also shut down, who stopped their shipments. And there is a PetroChina refinery that has also stopped its shipments, which is in the south of France. So, all the refineries, that are still refining oil in France today, are at a standstill.

The objective is to last as long as possible to put sufficient pressure on the government to back down on this reform and so that we can put forward our solutions to positively reform our retirement system.

Brandon Jourdan (narrator): Electricity production was reduced and workers reportedly engaged in “Robin Hood” actions, pledging to provide free power to schools, universities, and low-income homes. The strikes have public support, with polls showing a broad majority opposing the reforms and 60% of the public supporting bringing France to a standstill.

The Paris march was the largest mobilization of the 2023 strike wave so far, with the union official stating 700,000 attended the protests. Police estimated 81,000 people.

Anne Chatain, President, French Confederation of Christian Workers, (CFTC) Media+: We are here in the street to try to influence the government that is trying to pass a very brutal pension reform law.

Awawou Yenou, Hotel Ibis Batignolle CGT: We don’t agree with the state. The citizens do not agree, employees, especially those working in the difficult jobs. So, we don’t agree in relation to the age decided for retirement.

Anne Jamet, CFDT Thales Metal Workers: The government does not react, for the moment, to the mobilizations. There have been several mobilizations with huge numbers of people. There is no answer. So today, a new day of mobilization. As the law is under review in the Senate, we still have to show that we are mobilized and that we do not want this unfair reform to pass.

Today, for the first time in my life, I am on strike. It’s still a strong commitment to go on strike, in support of all workers.

Student protesters chanting: We are here! We are here!

Even if Macron doesn’t like it, we are here!

For the honor of the workers, for a better world

Even if Macron doesn’t like it, we are here!

We are here! We are here!

Even if Macron doesn’t like it, we are here!

For the honor of the workers, for a better world

Even if Macron doesn’t like it, we are here!

Brandon Jourdan (narrator): There was a large black bloc, who clashed with police and engaged in targeted property destruction. In the melee, police made 22 arrests.

If the pension reforms are approved, popular anger could boil over again, as it did with the yellow vest movement a few years ago. Whatever happens, March 2023 will prove to be a historic month that can either resurrects the French trade union movement, which has seen its numbers in decline, or give Macron another bitterly contested victory.

Eric Challal, SUD Railway Union (interview): We have no choice, we must make Macron back down, make the employers back down. There is no lack of money in this society.

Record profits, they were announced not long ago, and the state’s coffers would be short 10 to 20 million to finance pensions?

No one believes it.

So, this battle against the pension reform, there are many things behind it. Wages are too low, prices are exploding, the high cost of living, the threat of war. We have this opportunity to fight, all the workers together, and to lead the arm wrestling with continuous strikes. We must seize this opportunity.

Sign Up To Our Daily Digest

Independent media outlets are being suppressed and dropped by corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for our daily email digest before it’s too late so you don’t miss the latest movement news.