Trains stopped, schools closed, unions in the streets. France is gearing up for a big strike day on Thursday against pension reform.
The bill and its main measure, the postponement of the retirement age to 64 from 62 today, is facing a united union front and widespread hostility in public opinion according to polls. “It’s going to be a difficult Thursday (…), major disruptions to transport”, warned the Minister Delegate for Transport, Clément Beaune, calling for the postponement of travel or teleworking.
The national company SNCF ensures “highly disturbed” traffic with one high-speed train (TGV) in every three, or even one in five depending on the line, and only one regional train in every ten on average. In Paris, traffic will also be greatly reduced on the metro, reported the transport authority RATP.
While some service stations are already dry, Clément Beaune urged motorists who fear shortages caused by possible stoppages at refineries not to “take precautionary measures”. Civil aviation, for its part, asked airlines to cancel one in five flights at Paris-Orly airport on Thursday due to a strike by air traffic controllers.
In Education, 70% of primary teachers will not teach and many schools will close, according to their main union, and strikes are also planned in the electricity sector.
Many French people who have the opportunity and who are not on strike must resort to telecommuting. “Tomorrow I’m going to telework, I’m going to stay at home and wait for it to pass,” said Aurélie Lenoir, 36, director of a start-up.
Emmanuel Macron, whose pension reform is a crucial project for the second five years, to which he has been committed since his first term campaign, plays big: his party, which does not have a majority in the National Assembly, could be weakened if the movement is deep and lasting.
While the French president pointed the finger on Wednesday at certain unions that would like to “block the country”, the government spokesman, Olivier Véran, said he hoped, in the same lexical field, that “the popular expression does not become a blockade”, while the unions, united for the first time in 12 years, tend to lose space in the French social scene.
The left and far right are opposed to reform. Only the classic right-wing opposition seems open to concessions. “The cup is full,” said Olivier Mateu, a trade union representative for southern France, interviewed by AFP in Marseille. “We saw that everything the government did was in favor of the richest in this country and never for those who create wealth, that is, us, the workers.”
Rallies are planned in 215 to 250 cities, according to sources, who expect a mobilization of more than “one million” demonstrators. This symbolic meter would help the movement to be lasting.
More than 10,000 police and gendarmes, including 3,500 in Paris, will be deployed to secure the demonstrations, according to the Interior Ministry, which expects “a few thousand” of demonstrators “who could be violent” in the capital.
France is one of the European countries where the legal retirement age is the lowest, without pension systems being completely comparable. There are 65 in Germany, Belgium or Spain, 67 in Denmark, according to the Center for European and International Social Security Liaison, a French public body.
The government opted to extend the working day, taken in response to the financial deterioration of pension funds and an aging population. It defends its project by presenting it as a “provider of social progress”, namely through the valorization of small pensions.
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