Workers in France are still refusing to back down to Macron’s pension reforms

French pension protest
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On Thursday 23 March, French unions staged a new day of disruption against president Macron’s pension reforms. Workers brought refineries to a standstill, along with mass transport cancellations.

Interrupted supply from refineries has raised concern over fuel shortages for planes at Paris airports. This adds to a growing list of headaches in the crisis that include piles of rubbish in Paris.

Macron, on 22 March, said he was prepared to accept unpopularity. He stated that raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 was “necessary” and “in the general interest of the country”.

Protests were planned across the country on 23 March in the latest day of nationwide stoppages that began in mid-January against the pension changes.

Some 12,000 police, including 5,000 in Paris, were to be deployed for Thursday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

Plummeting approval

Earlier in the day, protesters blocked road access to Terminal 1 at the capital’s Charles de Gaulle airport, French television footage showed. Half of all high-speed trains nationwide were cancelled, SNCF said, as a union source said one fourth of staff was striking. At least half the suburban trains into Paris were not running.

Paris municipal garbage collectors have pledged to uphold a rolling strike until Monday, as thousands of tonnes of rubbish rot on the streets.

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Acting on Macron’s instructions, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoked an article in the constitution a week ago to adopt the reform without a parliamentary vote.

The government on Monday narrowly survived a no-confidence motion, but the outrage has spawned the biggest domestic crisis of Macron’s second term.

A survey on Sunday showed Macron’s personal approval rating at just 28 percent, its lowest level since the height of the anti-government “Yellow Vest” protest movement in 2018-2019.

Airport fuel ‘under pressure’

Around a fifth of schoolteachers did not turn up for work on Thursday, the education ministry said.

Blockades at oil refineries will also continue. In particular, one TotalEnergies site in four is working in the country. The ministry of energy transition warned that the kerosene supply to the capital was becoming “critical”.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has warned that its fuel stocks at the two main Paris airports are “under pressure”. It urged planes to fill up at foreign stopovers.

Spontaneous protests have broken out on a daily basis in recent days. This has lead to hundreds of arrests and accusations of heavy-handed tactics by police.

Amnesty International has expressed alarm:

about the widespread use of excessive force and arbitrary arrests reported in several media outlets.

On Wednesday evening, hundreds again took to the streets in Paris, Lyon, and Lille.

‘No legitimacy’

France’s Constitutional Court still needs to give the final word on the reform. However, Macron told French TV channels that the changes needed to “come into force by the end of the year”. He also backtracked on earlier comments that the crowds demonstrating had “no legitimacy”. Instead, he said that organised protests were “legitimate”, but violence should be condemned and blockages should not impede normal activity.

Undeterred, hundreds of protesters in Paris flooded onto train tracks on 23 March in the Gare de Lyon. They interrupted traffic and caused a delay of at least half an hour, according to national railway operator SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français). They chanted:

And we will go on, we will go on, we will go on till revocation

Featured image via YouTube screenshot/Global News

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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