Massive French protests challenge Macron over pension plans

Protesters in France launched a new move on Tuesday to pressure President Emmanuel Macron to drop his pension reform plan, with hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating and striking the streets disrupting transport and schools.

Trade union-led protesters took part in a second large-scale demonstration in less than two weeks to challenge President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Major CGT unions said 500,000 people were demonstrating in Paris alone on Tuesday afternoon, surpassing the 400,000 on the final day of the rally on 19 January.

Police sources said authorities expected up to 1.2 million people to take to the streets across the country, which would exceed the 1.1 million that took to the streets on January 19.

But Macron showed no signs of backing down, arguing on Monday that reforms were “essential”.

France currently has the lowest eligibility age for public pensions among major European economies.

Arnaud Roulet, a 47-year-old transport worker, was among those protesting in Paris.

“Ladies and gentlemen of government, you are exhausting people. You are siphoning all the resources we have left,” he said. “You are attacking our bread.”

An AFP journalist said a small brawl broke out between Ultra and police in Paris in the afternoon. Police said they had arrested 18 people.

– “My knee hurts already” –

Tens of thousands also took part in protests in other parts of the country.

“I don’t want to wait until I’m 64. I’m a nursery school teacher and it’s impossible to teach until I’m 64.”

“We have to squat all the time and my knees hurt already.”

The most controversial of the reforms has been raising the minimum retirement age, but it also requires more work to qualify for a full pension.

Christian, 54, a flight simulator repairman in the southwestern city of Toulouse, said he couldn’t wait until he turned 65 to receive maximum benefits.

“I already work the night shift, and it’s getting harder and harder,” he said.

Across the country, millions of people have had to adjust to daily life as transport and education workers planned strikes.

Metro and suburban rail services in Paris were severely restricted, as was travel between cities.

A union source told AFP that 36.5% of workers at rail operator SNCF had quit their jobs. It decreased from 46.3% on January 19th.

About a quarter of nursery and primary school teachers were on strike, according to the Ministry of Education. According to the teachers’ union, more than half of the teachers in middle and high schools had quit their jobs.

France’s oil industry is largely paralyzed, with energy giant Total Energy’s CGT union reporting 75-100% of workers are on strike.

Nearly two in 10 civil servants were on strike by noon, down from 28% on January 19, officials said.

– “Involving young people” –

High school and college students also joined the movement, and dozens of students from the famous Po University of Science occupied the main building overnight.

“It is important to involve young people in the pension debate,” said student Jean-Baptiste Bonnet.

Even a prison in the southwestern city of Nimes was blocked by protesting staff, union sources said.

61% of French people support the protests, a poll on Monday by the OpinionWay research group showed. That’s a 3% increase from Jan 12th.

“The more French people know about reform, the less they support it,” said Frédéric Dabi, a prominent pollster at the IFOP Institute.

“This is not good for the government at all.”

The government says changes are necessary to ensure future funding of the pension system, which is projected to be deficit in the next few years.

Opponents, however, say there is nothing wrong with the system and argue that pension spending is not out of control.

The government has suggested that some of the proposed measures could be adjusted, but not the age limit.

Macron’s centrist allies, who do not have an absolute majority in parliament, need votes from conservatives to push for new legislation.

burs-ah/sjw/ea Massive French protests challenge Macron over pension plans

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