French protests against pension reform have led to the postponement of king Charles III’s trip to the country. Workers have brought refineries, transport, and other key services in the country to a standstill. President Emmanuel Macron is facing growing pressure as workers protest his government’s proposal to raise the age of pension receipt from 62 to 64.
Charles’ first foreign trip as monarch was supposed to show warming Franco-British relations. Instead, it’s drawn further attention to increasingly passionate sweeping protests across France. The UK government said Macron asked for the visit to be postponed during talks on Friday 24 March. It blamed the cancellation on potential fresh strikes on Tuesday 28 March – the second day of the king’s tour. A reminder, were it needed, that direct action is the best way to call attention to causes.
Paris is burning
Police arrested more than 450 people on Thursday 23 March. Meanwhile, 441 members of the security forces were injured. The French interior ministry’s figures point to it being the most violent day of protests since the start of the year.
Protesters lit more than 900 fires around Paris, with authorities blaming anarchist groups for setting uncollected rubbish ablaze and smashing shop windows. This led to frequent clashes with riot police.
In southwestern Bordeaux, protesters set fire to the ancient wooden entrance to city hall. Other protests took place in Rennes, Nantes, and Toulouse. Charles had been set to visit the Bordeaux city hall on Tuesday. This would have been after a day in Paris on Monday. He was due to address the Senate and attend a state banquet at the Palace of Versailles.
Piles of partially burnt rubbish littered the streets of Paris on Friday. Blockades of oil refineries by striking workers are beginning to create fuel shortages around the country. The ministry of energy transition on Thursday warned that kerosene supply to the capital and its airports was becoming “critical”. More flights were cancelled this weekend at airports around the country due to a strike by air traffic controllers.
More than a million people marched in France on Thursday. Macron’s recent tactics and statements have reinvigorated the protest movement. He’s pushed legislation to change the retirement age through parliament without a vote. Inevitably, this has created uproar and yet another huge domestic crisis for the president – just 10 months into his second term in office.
Macron’s decision to force the legislation through parliament and his refusal to back down in a television interview on Wednesday appeared to have energised many opponents.
On Twitter, James Melville shared heavy-handed policing used to tackle protestors:
Firefighters joined the protests:
Bordeaux went up in flames:
Journalist Taj Ali shared footage of oil refinery workers refusing to deliver fuel:
Journalist Ihtisham Ul Haq shared footage that shows the vast scale of the protests:
As protests show no signs of abating, 21-year-old student Judicael Juge told Agence France-Presse (AFP):
There’s the substance — the reform of the pension system — and then there’s the other issue of how democracy functions.
I think that is more of a source of anger now.
Macron has tried to reform pensions to force people to work for longer. Just as Juge says, however, it’s the president’s attempts to cut corners when it comes to democracy that are especially galling. The strength of workers shown in French protests across industries are to be admired. The fact that Macron has been forced to turn Charles away will be embarrassing for the French leader. More importantly, it’s a victory for French protestors who have clearly had enough.
Their willingness to organise and resist threats to their wellbeing and welfare is an example to bootlicking Britain.
Featured image via YouTube screenshot/Guardian
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse