Protests and disruption in France as transport workers start strikes

Road, rail and air services affected in protest over plans to raise pension age from 62 to 64

France faced street protests and heavy disruption on Tuesday as transport workers and refinery staff began rolling strikes over Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the pension age to 64.

For the sixth time since the start of the year, unions called a nationwide day of strikes and demonstrations, aiming to repeat the large turnout seen on the first major protest, on 19 January, when more than a million people marched against the pension changes.

The disruption is expected to be greater and last longer as rail unions called for rolling, open-ended strikes, which could affect all national trains as well as international routes including the Eurostar.

Local urban buses and subway trains in large cities were affected, as were airlines, with up to 30% of flights cancelled on Tuesday and Wednesday as air traffic controllers strike.

Travellers walk toward a platform at the Gare de l’Est railway station in Paris, as fresh strikes and protests are planned against the government’s controversial pensions reform.
Travellers at the Gare de l’Est railway station in Paris on Tuesday morning. Photograph: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

“The idea is to bring France to a standstill,” said Fabrice Michaud, of the railway workers’ branch of the CGT trade union.

The transport minister, Clément Beaune, told France 3 TV station it would be “one of the most difficult” strike days for travellers since the start of the protests.

Some students, including at Rennes 2 University in Brittany, began blockading faculties on Monday night. Some schools closed on Tuesday as teachers staged a one-day strike. Bin collections were also affected in several cities.

Students in Paris take part in pension protests last month.
Students in Paris take part in pension protests last month. Photograph: Samuel Boivin/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Macron’s proposals to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and increase the number of years of work required to claim a full pension are being debated in the French senate.

The president has been left severely undermined on the domestic front after his centrist grouping failed to win an absolute majority in parliamentary elections last June amid gains for the far right and radical left.

Without a majority, the government must rely on the rightwing Les Républicains to back pensions changes, but their senators and lawmakers are pressing for alterations.

Discussions are forecast to end by the end of March. It is expected that a committee made up of legislators from both houses of parliament will seek a potential deal on a joint version of the text, to eventually be presented for approval at the national assembly and then the senate. But tensions remain as to the level of support.

Union members take part in a strike vote at the Exxon-Mobil Port Jerome Gravenchon refinery near Le Havre.
Union members take part in a strike vote at the Exxon-Mobil refinery at Port Jérôme, Gravenchon near Le Havre. Photograph: Lou Benoist/AFP/Getty Images

The government is determined to press on with the pensions changes, and its spokesperson said there were more pressing issues facing the country than the strikes, such as the cost of living crisis.

An Ifpo poll for the Sunday paper Le Journal de Dimanche found that only 32% of French people supported Macron’s pension changes.

Laurent Berger, the head of the moderate CFDT trade union, criticised Macron for not meeting trade union leaders. He said the president must listen to the French people. “He can’t stay silent like he has for the past two months,” Berger said.


Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
French protesters storm luxury group LVMH offices before pensions ruling
Emmanuel Macron back from Netherlands amid sustained unrest over plan to raise pension age to 64

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

13, Apr, 2023 @3:52 PM

Article image
Hundreds of thousands of people take to French streets amid fears of violence
Fears of more violent clashes with police as demonstrations against Macron’s unpopular pensions policy to carry on

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

28, Mar, 2023 @2:37 PM

Article image
Tens of thousands of public sector workers strike across France
Train drivers, teachers, nurses and air traffic controllers take to the streets to protest against Macron’s changes

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

22, Mar, 2018 @5:47 PM

Article image
More than 1m march in France amid strikes over plan to raise retirement age
Arrests at biggest march in Paris while train services halted and many primary schools close for the day

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

19, Jan, 2023 @6:58 PM

Article image
French strikes: talks begin in move to end month-long stoppages
Government hopes for compromise with moderate unions over pension reforms

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

07, Jan, 2020 @11:37 AM

Article image
Emmanuel Macron's presidency faces first major street protests
France’s second biggest union says more than 180 demos planned nationwide against contentious labour law reforms

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

12, Sep, 2017 @6:57 AM

Article image
Why are pensions such a political flashpoint in France?
Macron skips vote to force pension changes through, but faces more protests and a possible vote of no confidence

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

16, Mar, 2023 @5:13 PM

Article image
Banging saucepans will not move France forward, says Macron
President tours rural France in attempt to calm tensions over his unpopular pensions changes

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

19, Apr, 2023 @3:55 PM

Article image
Paris brasserie favoured by Macron set alight as pension protests continue
Awning of La Rotonde briefly in flames as hundreds of thousands of mostly peaceful demonstrators again take to streets across France

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

06, Apr, 2023 @6:09 PM

Article image
France braces for ‘Black Thursday’ general strike over pension changes
Union leaders call for ‘massive mobilisation’ to oppose latest attempt to overhaul pension system

Kim Willsher in Paris

18, Jan, 2023 @12:29 PM