06 June 2023

Protests in France as unions make last-ditch bid to resist higher retirement age

06 June 2023

French union activists have marched on the headquarters of the Paris Olympics and slowed traffic at the capital’s Orly Airport with strikes as they sought to reignite resistance to a higher retirement age.

But the last-ditch effort drew fewer followers than at the height of the movement earlier this year, and even some union leaders seemed ready to move on.

President Emmanuel Macron’s move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 – and force the measure through parliament without a vote – inflamed public emotions and triggered some of France’s biggest demonstrations in years.

But the intensity of anger over the pension reform has ebbed since the last big protests on May 1, and since the measure became law in April.

As part of Tuesday’s actions, a third of flights were cancelled at Paris’s Orly Airport because of strikes, and about 10% of trains around France were disrupted.

Around 250 marches, rallies and other actions were planned around the country to mark the 14th day of national protest since January over the pension reform.

A small group of activists with the hard-left CGT union pushed their way into the headquarters of the 2024 Olympics in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, chanting anti-Macron slogans.

In Paris, mild tensions flared near a restaurant in the Left Bank as individuals engaged in minor vandalism of bus shelters and threw objects at police.

Police quickly dispersed the crowds.

In the western city of Rennes, union activists marched on train tracks before being turned back by police, according to local public broadcaster France Bleu.

In Paris, thousands gathered along the embankments of the Seine River near the gold-domed Invalides monument before setting off on their march to south-east Paris.

The peaceful crowd waved union flags, banged drums and chanted to demand the withdrawal of the pension law and a lower retirement age.

Mr Macron says the reform was needed to finance the pension system as the population ages.

Unions and left-wing opponents say the changes hurt poorer workers and have argued for higher taxes on the wealthy and employers instead.

The outgoing head of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, said that after Tuesday’s actions, “we will continue to contest the retirement reform, but it will take on a different form”.

CGT chief Sophie Binet told reporters at the Paris march that other protests are “probable”, but she too said it was time to talk about other issues such as working conditions or tax fraud by companies.

Organisers of Tuesday’s protests hope to rally support before a possible parliamentary debate on Thursday on a Bill that is seeking to repeal the new retirement age.

Legislators from centrist opposition group LIOT proposed the Bill to put back the retirement age to 62.

But it has already met challenges before it reaches the parliamentary floor.

While Mr Macron’s centrist party does not have a majority in the National Assembly, it has allied with the conservative Republicans party to push back the opposition’s efforts.

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