Protests in France are said to test the government’s resolve to reform pensions
By John Irish, Noemie Olive and Ingrid Melander
PARIS/TOURS (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated across France on Saturday to keep up pressure on the government over its pension reform plans, including a move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
After three days of nationwide strikes since the beginning of the year, unions are hoping to secure mass participation from January 19, when more than a million people protested the plans.
“If they can’t hear what’s happening on the street and can’t understand what’s happening to people, they shouldn’t be surprised if it explodes at some point,” Delphine Maisonneuve, a 43-year-old nurse, told Reuters as a protest began in Paris.
The French spend the most years in retirement of any OECD country, an advantage opinion polls show a large majority of people are reluctant to give up.
President Emmanuel Macron says the reform is “vital” to ensure the viability of the pension system.
According to the Interior Ministry, an estimated 963,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country. Paris police said around 93,000 people had demonstrated in the capital, compared with 80,000 on January 19. Unions put the Paris number at 500,000.
In the central-west city of Tours, firefighter Anthony Chauveau, 40, told Reuters that opposing the reform was crucial because the difficulties of his job simply weren’t being taken into account.
“They tell us we have two more years to work… our life expectancy is lower than that of the majority of workers,” he said.
The peaceful protests in Paris were partly overshadowed by minor clashes. A car and some rubbish bins were set on fire, and police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse some of the more radical elements of the protests.
FRANCE SHUT DOWN
In a joint statement ahead of Saturday’s demonstrations, all major unions called on the government to withdraw the law.
They warned that if their demands were not met, they would try to bring France to a standstill from March 7. A strike is already planned for February 16.
“If the government remains deaf, the all-union group will call for France to be shut down,” they said ahead of Saturday’s demonstrations.
The protests are the first of a weekend when workers are not required to strike or take time off.
You are following the first week of the pension bill debate in Parliament.
The opposition has proposed thousands of amendments to complicate the debate and ultimately try to force the government to pass the law without a parliamentary vote and by decree, a move that could potentially jeopardize the rest of Macron’s mandate.
He was re-elected in April 2022 for a five-year term.
Raising the retirement age by two years and lengthening the period of contributions would result in an additional €17.7 billion ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions, according to the Labor Department, allowing the system to break even by 2027.
The unions say there are other ways to do this, e.g. For example, taxing the super-rich or asking employers or wealthy pensioners to contribute more.
“Even if I’m not really affected (by the pension reform) at my age, it’s important to pay attention to our society, that there is cohesion, that people are very close to each other and to be vigilant, not just about ours older people but also to take care of our children,” said Kamel Amriou, 65, a retired graphic designer.
(Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander in Tours; Editing by Mark Potter and Jason Neely)