© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Protesters hold a drawing depicting a portrait of French President Emmanuel Macron during a demonstration as part of the tenth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform in Paris, France, March 28, 2023.
By Blandine Henault and Yann Tessier
PARIS (Reuters) -France faced a new day of street protests on Thursday over President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to make people work longer for their pension, as striking workers disrupted garbage collection in Paris and blocked river traffic on part of the Rhine river.
Trade unions urged a show of force on the streets a day before the Constitutional Council’s ruling on the legality of the bill that would raise the retirement age by two years to 64.
If the Council gives its approval, possibly with some caveats, the government will be entitled to promulgate the law, and will hope this will eventually put an end to protests, which have at times turned violent, and coalesced widespread anger against Macron.
In a 12th day of nationwide protests since strikes began in mid-January, demonstrators briefly blocked an access road to the Council with rubbish bins, hanging a banner across the street reading “Constitutional Censorship”.
The industrial action has lost some steam and the protests have rallied thinner crowds in past weeks compared with the more-than 1 million-strong numbers seen earlier in the movement.
But unions remained defiant.
“This is certainly not the last day of the strike,” Sophie Binet, the new leader of the hard-left CGT union, said at blockade of an incinerator outside Paris.
Macron must withdraw this law, “or he won’t be able to govern the country,” she said.
“Incinerator workers, garbage collectors, are on strike until further notice, until the withdrawal of the pension reform,” said CGT unionist Loic Gefrotin, on the picket lines of another trash treatment plant in the Paris region, in Issy-les-Moulineaux.
Macron said he would organise a meeting with unions after the Council’s decision to start working on other proposals — an initiative the CGT said would be short-lived if he was not ready to discuss withdrawing the pension reform.
“The country must continue to move forward, work, and face the challenges that await us,” Macron told a news conference late on Wednesday.
Political observers have said the widespread discontent over the government’s reform could have longer-term repercussions, including a possible boost for the far right.
“I’m not that optimistic about the Constitutional Council’s decision,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who opposes the pension legislation, told BFM TV. “But what do you want me to do? Burn cars? We’ll just tell the French: Vote for the National Rally.”
Macron and his government argue the law is essential to ensure that France’s generous pension system does not go bust.
Unions say this can be done by other means, including taxing the rich more, or making deeper changes to the pension system.
Earlier this week, refining operations resumed at TotalEnergies’ Gonfreville refinery, France’s largest by barrels-per-day, the last of the company’s domestic refineries to restart after a month-long shut down.
Some deliveries of refined products from two of those sites were disrupted on Thursday, a TotalEnergies spokesperson said.
On the Rhine river, cargo traffic was disrupted after workers cut power at a waterway lock near the border with Germany and Switzerland and run by France’s state-owned energy company EDF (EPA:), a union official told Reuters.
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