The French pensions revolt: A view from Marseille

A barricade at a university entrance over the French pensions from Macron
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France is in revolt. Ever since the 24 March decision by Macron to push through hated pension reforms without a vote, people have been shutting down city centres, and occupying schools, universities, and workplaces.

Much of the news has focused on the movement in Paris. However, the rebellion isn’t only in the capital. It is happening in cities, towns and villages across the country.

The Canary spoke to Ana, an organiser from Marseille, who has been involved in the protests and demonstrations in the city. She agreed to tell us a little about what’s been happening over the last week.

‘Manifestation sauvage’

Ana said that people have taken to the streets of Marseille almost every evening since Macron bypassed parliament by invoking article 49-3 of the French constitution. These nighttime protests are known as ‘manifestation sauvage’ in French, or (roughly translated) wildcat demonstrations. The city’s anarchist movement organises them.

Ana said that the police have responded to the wildcat demonstrations with tear gas and violence. For example, police mobilised with force against demonstrators on Tuesday 28 March. The cops arrested at least six people. The protests are repressed by the riot police, known as the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS) and the Brigade Anti-Criminalité (BAC):

The CRS and BAC also have a strong visible presence in the side streets, at the large pre-arranged trade union mobilisations.

On 30 March, Ana told us that a demonstration was held in Marseille, protesting against police violence. Barricades were set up on the streets.

Stopping the train lines and motorways

As in other cities in France, the rebels of Marseille have used the tactic of stopping the roads and trains in order to force Macron to back down.

The most recent big strike day was on 28 March. Trade unions organised a massive demonstration, with at least 280,000 people in Marseille participating. Members of several unions blockaded the St Charles railway station for over an hour. Prior to the blockade, the station was still operating in spite of the strike. People stopped the trains by occupying the tracks.

Ana told us that members of the Solidaries union also blocked the motorway on 28 March, and people blocked Marseille’s bus and tram depot at St Pierre too.

On 29 March, members of the CGT union used cars and trucks to bring traffic to a standstill on the roads and in motorway tunnels around Marseille.

Ana told the Canary that students have repeatedly taken action to block the entrances to their schools and universities. This happened at Lycée Saint-Charles recently, for example. She also said that students blocked the university campus at St Charles at least twice in March too. One blockade lasted 24 hours.

On 21 March, strikers occupied the oil depot at nearby Fos-Sur-Mer, building burning barricades.

Finishing what the Gilet Jaunes started

We asked Ana whether she has hope that the movement will succeed. She told us that people are becoming weary after months of intense struggle since the strikes began last year:

Are we going to win? I am a bit lost.. Honestly, people are very tired and struggling because of money and the rise in living costs. The strikes started at the end of last year, even though it was only one or two days… People are feeling the effects of the strike especially those on precarious contracts. In my opinion Macron was strategic – when he choose to use 49-3 in mid-March – when he knew people would have started to feel the loss from the strikes. He refused to meet the unions time and time again.
But she says that the ongoing spirit of resistance gives her hope:
But I have some hope – whether it’s the students blocking their schools or the unionists blocking tunnels and motorways – I dream we can finish what the Gilet Jaunes started in 2019 against Macron.
The French revolt against pension reforms should give us hope too. Lessons can be learned from the intensity of the demonstrations and disruptive actions across France. If our movements in the UK hope to challenge the state’s attacks on all of us, then we will need to work together to generate the level of solidarity and militancy we’ve seen across France in the past months.
Featured image via screenshot/RMC

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  • Show Comments
    1. So sad in the U.K. the Waspi women fought alone against the severe 6 years add on to their pension wait. Many working class women with little access to private pensions and unable to continue to hard in hard jobs have been plunged into terrible poverty and have died waiting. We didn’t see many join us in our demonstrations.

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