France: Protesters gather on streets in strike against reform

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Demonstrations against Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms gathered thousands of people in the cities of Paris, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes, Lyon and other places as strikes were severely disrupting transport, schools and other public services across France.

French workers would have to work longer before receiving a pension under the new rules — with the nominal retirement age rising from 62 to 64.

In a country with an ageing population and growing life expectancy where everyone receives a state pension, Macron’s government says the reform is the only way to keep the system solvent.

Unions argue the pension overhaul threatens hard-fought rights, and propose a tax on the wealthy or more payroll contributions from employers to finance the pension system. Polls suggest most French people also oppose the reform.

The plans have sparked furious Frexit calls as some highlight Brussels’ responsibility in pushing Emmanuel Macron over pension reforms.

In a note seen by Express.co.uk, Florian Philippot told his Les Patriotes supporters: “We are perfectly equipped to fight the pension reform. Only seven percent of French workers support this reform according to the latest polls, because everyone has understood that it is as unfair as it is useless.

“We add to this what most of the ‘opposition’ and the trade unions are silent about: it is a requirement of the European Union, pushed in Brussels by the big financial funds like BlackRock, who want a disguised privatisation of the very juicy market of retirement.

“We did not wait for this week to take on our responsibilities: for years, we have been alerting, explaining and mobilising. Again last Saturday, we were very numerous in the streets of Paris to defend the Frexit, to draw another future, to demand from the parliamentarians the vote of the motions of censure and the commitment of the dismissal of Macron!”

Speaking to this website, Dr Helena Ivanov from the Henry Jackson Society, argued protests could eventually force Mr Macron to backtrack on his plans, but the cost of living crisis might come to the French leader’s advantage.

She said: “It is hard to definitively predict what will be the outcome, primarily because this is a question of the perseverance of the protesters.

“On one hand, if the strikes were to continue at this pass and/or escalate, thereby effectively brining the country to a standstill, we can expect that the President will be forced to make a U-Turn and cancel or change the proposed the reforms.

“At the same time, the market insecurity and living cost crisis might mean that people aren’t as willing to forgo their daily income to go on a strike – and if that is the case, then these protests, whilst damaging, may not be sufficiently powerful to force the President to change course of action.”

More than 200 rallies are expected around France on Thursday, including a large one in Paris involving all France’s major unions.

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Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT union, called the government’s plans a “unfair” reform on BFMTV and called on workers to “peacefully come (to the streets) to say they disagree.”

Police unions opposed to the retirement reform are also taking part, while those who are on duty are bracing for potential violence if extremist groups join the demonstrations.

A majority of trains around France are canceled, including some international connections, according to the SNCF rail authority. About 20 percent of flights out of Paris’ Orly Airport are canceled and airlines are warning of delays.

Electricity workers pledged to reduce power supplies as a form of protest.

The ministry of National Education said some 34 to 42 percent of teachers were on strike, depending on schools. High school student unions were expected to join the protests.

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French Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt acknowledged “concerns” prompted by the pension plans that will require from workers “an additional effort.” He called on strikers not to block the economy of the country. “The right to strike is a freedom, but we do not want any blockades,” he said, speaking on LCI television.

Dussopt justified the choice to push back the retirement age because the government rejected other options involving raising taxes — which he said would hurt the economy and cost jobs — or reducing pension amounts.

The French government is formally presenting the pension bill on Monday and it heads to Parliament next month. Its success will depend in part on the scale and duration of the strikes and protests.

The planned changes provide that workers must have worked for at least 43 years to be entitled to full pension. For those who do not fulfil that condition, like many women who interrupted their career to raise their children or those who studied for a long time and started working late, the retirement age would remain unchanged at 67.

Those who started to work early, under the age of 20, and workers with major health issues would be allowed early retirement.

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