Over 800,000 strikers in France show that ‘business as usual’ is not an option

Ed Sykes

The Eiffel Tower shut down, France’s vaunted high-speed trains stood still and “at least 800,000 people” protested across France as unions launched nationwide strikes on 5 December over the government’s plan to change the retirement system.

US economist Richard D Wolff responded to the strike by saying people in France are uniting to oppose a worsening in their retirement conditions. And he said:

The mass of the French people are letting the government know they won’t take it.

Paris authorities barricaded the presidential palace and deployed 6,000 police as people gathered in the capital in a mass outpouring of anger at President Emmanuel Macron and his policies.

France Strikes
Protesters demonstrate in Rennes, western France, as unions launched nationwide strikes. The banner reads: ‘Revolution! It’s enough’ (AP Photo/David Vincent)

France Strikes
Unions launched nationwide strikes and protests over the government’s plan to change the retirement system (David Vincent/AP)

Authorities banned protests in the more sensitive neighbourhoods around the Champs-Elysees avenue, presidential palace, parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral. Police also carried out security checks of more than 6,000 people arriving for the protest and detained 65 even before it started.

The mood was impassioned in the crowd massed on Boulevard Magenta in eastern Paris. Health workers, for example, showed up to decry conditions in hospitals. Environmentalists, meanwhile, emphasised that climate justice and social justice are one and the same. And young and old people roundly condemned the new retirement plan, which they fear would take money out of their pockets and reduce the period of repose the French people expect in the last decades of their lives.

Eric Mettling, who joined the Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) at the start of their movement, said the general strike had brought together social movements across France in a manner unprecedented in recent memory to denounce “the social crisis”. One activist previously told The Canary that the longstanding yellow-vest protests have represented a “deep critique of modern capitalist society”.

Police fired tear gas at a protest in the western French city of Nantes, and thousands of red-vested union activists marched through cities from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Lille in the north.

Public-sector workers fear Macron’s changes will force them to work longer and shrink their pensions. Some private-sector workers share their worries.

Joseph Kakou, who works an overnight security shift in western Paris, walked an hour to get home to the eastern side of town on Thursday morning.

“It doesn’t please us to walk. It doesn’t please us to have to strike,” Kakou told The Associated Press. “But we are obliged to, because we can’t work until 90 years old.”

The strike continued on 6 December, and action is expected to continue.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Looking across the channel we British can only sigh deeply at seeing the French unafraid, positive, vibrant and engaging in their strikes and marches for justice. Back home in Britain whenever similar social disruption occurs apathy, halfhearted involvement together with vicious recriminating press insults and misrepresentation hides, crushes any truths that are, in any case, too soon forgotten the very next day. The French are not afraid to demonstrably march and voice their concerns day after day after day as we pathetic Brits are always with an eye against being seen that we shouldn’t inconvenience others, because roads will be made impassable or that the workaday passionless, automaton uninvolved can’t get to work while an animated ‘protesting rabble’ speaks for the rest of us about societal evils.

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