Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images
France is preparing for widespread chaos as unions and protesters call for a “Black Thursday” general strike this week against government pension changes.
The day of action will be the first major test of the public’s determination to force President Emmanuel Macron to step back from plans to raise the official retirement age, and the minority government’s determination to oppose them. Union leaders called for a “massive mobilization”.
Three-quarters of teachers are expected to go on strike, close schools, and layoffs will disrupt transport and health services. Most trains will not run, Paris Metro services will be drastically interrupted, he said, and flights have been reportedly cancelled. The strikes were announced by truck drivers, couriers and delivery companies. Oil refinery workers are also going out of business.
Police are preparing for the protesters taking to the streets across the country, as many theater, music venues and bank staff are expected to join the action.
A recent poll showed that the French public agreed that changes to the pension system were necessary, but did not accept the changes proposed by the government. There is particular opposition to Macron’s plans to raise the official retirement age from 62 to 64, and to make workers pay longer to the pension system. An Ifop poll for France’s main Sunday newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, found that 68% of those asked were against the government’s measures.
The unions united for the first time in 12 years, overcoming their often hostile relationships to find a common purpose. Union leaders said Thursday would be “the first day of mobilization” in their fight to abolish pension plans. They demand the immediate withdrawal of the measures and describe them as “unjust and unnecessary”.
Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, said he hoped “several million people” would strike and demonstrate. “This is the first day. And when we say that, we mean there will be others everywhere if possible,” he said.
According to a 2007 law, transport workers are required to maintain a minimum of service, but passengers have been warned that this cannot be guaranteed. Transport Minister Clément Beaune said people should prepare for a “hard day” and suggested working from home rather than struggling to get to offices.
Intercity trains are expected to be hit the hardest, with warnings that nearly all of them will be canceled on Thursday. Only one in 10 regional trains and one-third to one-fifth of TGVs are expected to operate. Eurostar and Thalys are expected to operate normally, but Lyria’s flights to Switzerland will be severely interrupted.
The government, which lost its majority in last June’s general elections, says it will not back down and asks workers not to paralyze the country. He will rely on the conservative Les Républicains party to help the measure pass parliament. In response, the government said it would use a constitutional measure known as 49:3 to pass the law without parliamentary debate or voting.
Successive French presidents have tried and failed to overhaul the pension system and raise the retirement age. Macron made it a slate of his 2017 election campaign and made his first move two years later, sparking protests and transport strikes. The changes were shelved when the Covid epidemic hit, but were not abandoned. During his re-election campaign last year, Macron promised to overhaul the pension system, insisting that the measures were necessary to “save” the deficit.
In 1995, then-president Jacques Chirac and prime minister Alain Juppé sought to introduce a universal system and end the many different “special regimes” enjoyed by public sector workers. Two million people took to the streets in protests that lasted for nearly a month, and the changes were cancelled.
In 2010, another conservative president, Nicolas Sarkozy, raised the retirement age from 60 to 62 with a full pension for those who had worked at least 41.5 years, but only after a week of strikes, blockades of oil refineries and nationwide protests. .
Macron’s predecessor, François Hollande of the Socialist Party, promised to bridge the gap in the pension system, but was wary of major changes after tens of thousands protested in Paris. It passed legislation that gradually increased the number of years it takes to work to receive a full pension — 43 years by 2035 — by allowing those with physically demanding jobs to retire earlier.