New pensions strike in France as MPs battle over reform

Protestor lights a flare in France, pension strikes ramped up by trade unions
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French trade unions called workers out on a new strike on Thursday 16 February against a bitterly opposed pension reform being debated in parliament. This is the fifth day of action against President Emmanuel Macron’s reform, whose headline measure is raising the legal retirement age from 62 to 64. And the strikes aim to keep up the pressure ahead of a wider mass walkout on 7 March. However, unlike previous strike days, most main line trains and the Paris metro were running normally. This was due to fewer workers participating during school holidays across most of France.

Employees at state-controlled energy giant EDF said they had lowered output by more than 3,000 megawatts, or the equivalent of three nuclear power plants, without affecting supply to end users. On Wednesday, many hydroelectric plants had been disconnected from the grid. Also on Thursday, 30% of flights from Paris’ Orly airport were cancelled.

Police said they were expecting demonstrations by up to 650,000 people nationwide, after counting almost one million on Saturday. Unions, however, said that the weekend figure was more like 2.5 million.

Further marches

Union leaders were planning to join a march in the mid-sized town of Albi, northeast of Toulouse. Laurent Berger, leader of the CFDT union said:

We want to put the spotlight on one of the characteristics of this social movement. There’s a France of workers that wants to show it exists, that there’s more than just the big cities.

Polling shows around 70% of the public reject Macron’s pension reform plans. Meanwhile, a petition opposing them has gathered over one million signatures.

Philippe Martinez, head of the hard-left CGT union, said the plan was to “keep up pressure on MPs” to vote the bill down. Just last month, CGT threatened to cut off energy for billionaires. Martinez said:

Read on...

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It would be good if we cut off their electricity so that they can put themselves, for a few days, in the shoes of … French people who can’t afford to pay their bill.

“Bring France to a halt”

It is unclear whether the lower house will discuss its Article 7 before running out of time on Friday. Article 7 is responsible for the change in pension age. This uncertainty comes after left-wing opponents submitted thousands of amendments to delay debate. MPs have already rejected one of the bill’s articles, designed to press companies to employ more older workers.

Macron himself sought to project confidence Wednesday, telling a cabinet meeting that opposition parties have “totally lost their way” over the pensions fight. Socialist MP Philippe Brun said that there is “a possible majority in the chamber to vote against” the retirement age provision.

The biggest day of action may be still to come, with trade unions promising to “bring France to a halt” on 7 March. Unions are still debating whether to shift to rolling strikes after that date, with Paris metro workers and rubbish collectors already deciding in favour.

Featured image via YouTube screenshot/CBC News

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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