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Strikes in France: Workers pull out in mass protests against plans to raise retirement age


Paris/London
CNN

Strikes disrupted rail services, flights, schools and businesses in France on Thursday as more than a million people protested against government plans to raise the retirement age for most workers.

Demonstrations in major French cities, including Paris, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and Nice, have brought many stationary transport services. The Eiffel Tower was closed to visitors.

The French Interior Ministry said more than a million people took to the streets across the country, including 80,000 in Paris, where small groups of protesters threw bottles, stones and set fires firework over riot police.

Eight of the biggest unions took part in the industrial action against the pension reform unveiled by the government of President Emmanuel Macron. Unions have called for a new day of action against January 31 against legislation which will oblige French citizens to work until the age of 64, against 62 currently, in order to benefit from a full pension.

The French government has said it was necessary to tackle the pension funding gap, but the reforms have angered workers at a time when the cost of living is rising.

Teachers and transport workers were among those who did not show up for work. More than 40% of primary school teachers and more than a third of secondary school teachers have gone on strike, according to the French Ministry of Education.

Train lines across France have experienced “serious disruption”, according to French rail authority SNCF, and metro lines in Paris have been hit by full or partial closures, the transport authority of the region said. RATP city on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Eurostar has canceled several services between the French capital and London, according to its website, and some flights at Orly airport have been cancelled. Charles de Gaulle airport reported “a few delays” due to air traffic controllers on strike, but no cancellations.

Train tracks lie empty at the Gare de l'Est in Paris as France is hit by widespread traffic disruptions amid a nationwide strike against pension reform proposals.

The CGT, one of France’s main trade union confederations, estimated that two million people took part in more than 200 protest events across the country, and said the majority of workers at the TotalEnergies refinery

(UNTIL)
pulled out, interrupting deliveries of petroleum products. TotalEnergies

(UNTIL)
said the fuel supply to its network of gas stations would not be affected.

Macron’s proposed pension reforms come as workers in France, as elsewhere, are squeezed by rising food and energy bills. Nurses and paramedics across the UK are also striking on Thursday over wages and working conditions.

Thousands participated in mass protests took to the streets of Paris last year to protest the cost of living, and strikes by workers demanding higher wages caused fuel pumps to run dry across the country a few months ago.

“This reform comes at a time when there is a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, a lot of fatigue. It comes at the worst time, in fact,” CFE-CGC union leader Francois Hommeril told CNN on Tuesday, pointing the inflation that has ravaged Europe this year following the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters in Spain on Thursday, Macron defended the changes as “fair and responsible”.

“If you want the pact between the generations to be fair, this reform must be carried out,” he added.

France spent almost 14% of its GDP on public pensions in 2018, more than most other countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Wooden pallets burn, as demonstrators gather during a rally organized by French trade unions in front of the Gare de Lyon, in Paris, on January 19, 2023.

Government spokesman Olivier Veran told reporters on Wednesday that 40% of French workers will be able to retire before age 64 under the proposed scheme due to exceptions for those who started work early or have jobs. physically demanding.

“We have the most protective, most developed system in Europe [for pensions],” he said. “Even after the reforms, we will retire in France better and earlier than in almost all the countries of the euro zone,” he added.

In Europe and many other developed economies, the age of acquisition of full pension rights is 65 and tends increasingly towards 67.

Overhauling pensions has long been a contentious issue in France, with street protests halting reform efforts in 1995, and successive governments face fierce resistance changes that were finally adopted in 2004, 2008 and 2010.

A previous attempt by Macron to revamp the French pension system has come up against national strikes in 2019 before being abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

— Saskya Vandoorne in Paris and Al Goodman in Barcelona and Caitlin Hu contributed reporting.

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