France faces this Thursday the first major day of strikes and protests against the pension reform, presented last week by the Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne. The project, which proposes raising the retirement age to 64 years and accelerating the requirement to contribute for 43 years to collect a full pension, generates a strong rejection in the population. The unions, which have come together for the occasion, foresee a “massive” movement with more than 200 demonstrations throughout the territory, schools closed and transportation paralyzed. The French government has announced the deployment of more than 10,000 police officers and has asked that the mobilization not become a “blockade of the country”. The day of strikes and demonstrations represents a challenge for the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who lives the development of the day from Barcelona, where he meets with Pedro Sánchez to sign the Barcelona Treaty, a bilateral agreement between both countries.
The transport sector is one of the most affected. From the morning, the train lines work intermittently. The SNCF, the national railway company, has announced that only one high-speed train in three or five runs. In the case of regional trains, barely one convoy out of ten circulates on average. The Minister of Transport, Clément Beaune, had warned of a day “from hell” and had urged citizens to telework.
In Paris, the capital, the circulation of subways and trains also registers strong disturbances. One metro line is completely closed and the others only work partially, as reported by the RATP company. Airports are also affected. In the Parisian Orly, one of the main ones in France, one flight in five is expected to be canceled due to strikes by air traffic controllers.
Refinery strikes and schools closed
The strikes also affect the energy sector, especially refineries, which had already started a protest movement in October in favor of wage improvements and forced the government to intervene. The manager of the French electricity network RTE has reported a sharp reduction in electricity production, according to Agence France Presse. For its part, the CGT union has indicated that between 70% and 100% of personnel are on strike in most TotalEnergies refineries. More strikes are expected in the coming days.
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Other sectors have announced that they are joining the protest movement against the reform and are taking the opportunity to request wage increases in a context of inflation. The Ministry of Education has reported that more than 42% of teachers are on strike in primary school and almost 35% in secondary school. The SNES union has announced that in some establishments, 80% of teachers are unemployed.
Apart from the strikes, more than 200 demonstrations are also planned throughout the country. The first have already begun in cities such as Toulouse and Marseille, in the south, where the leader of the left-wing France Unsubmissive party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is located. In Paris, the capital, a protest led by representatives of the eight main unions leaves from the Place de la République at 2:00 p.m.
The Ministry of the Interior has announced the deployment of 10,000 police officers throughout the territory, including 3,500 in Paris, where it expects up to 80,000 protesters. The unions, united for the first time in 12 years – including the moderate CFDT, the first in France – hope that “millions” of people will take to the streets. “(…) When all the unions agree, something unusual, is that the problem is very serious, said the general secretary of the CGT, Philippe Martínez.
A test for Macron
An Ipsos poll published on Wednesday indicates that 61% of the French reject the reform undertaken by President Emmanuel Macron, although 81% consider that it is necessary to reform the system. The Executive defends that his project seeks to balance the pension fund in the face of a growing deficit due to the aging of the population. The reform project must be approved by the Council of Ministers in four days and its parliamentary process is expected to begin at the end of this month.
Macron insists that he has been re-elected by the French to carry out the reform. The president, who is offering a second term, lost the absolute parliamentary majority in the June legislatures, which forces him to negotiate each law that he wants to push forward. The Executive seeks the support of the right of Los Republicanos, which with its 62 seats has the key to reach the threshold of the absolute majority necessary to approve it.
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