France pension reform bill draws massive strikes and protests as workers try to grind life to a halt
Paris — Workers in France held their sixth mass protest Tuesday against a proposed pension reform bill that would raise the country’s retirement age. More than a million people marched in towns and cities across the country against the reforms — the latest attempt to bring the country to a standstill to get their message across.
The protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms, which he says are essential to ensure adequate funding for government pensions down the road, were largely peaceful, though there were sporadic clashes with police in some cities.
Isabelle, a public servant, told CBS News she had been working since she was 17. She had originally planned to retire at 60, then it was pushed to 62, and with the latest reforms, it will be 64. She said it wasn’t fair for the timeframe to keep changing in the middle of her career.
The protests drew workers from all walks of life — a reminder that the changes will affect everyone in France who isn’t already retired or set to retire this year.
The atmosphere at the Paris march ranged from light-hearted, to aggressive, with some violent clashes in the capital on the sidelines of the marches. Police blamed “radical elements” who they said had nothing to do with the actual protest.
French labor unions said they were pleased with the turnout at the marches and with the numbers who went on strike across many sectors, from transport to education to energy.
The nationwide strikes hit rail, road and air transport particularly hard, causing widespread delays and cancellations. They also forced some schools and power plants to close and led to blockades of ports and oil refineries.
Those blockades are of concern to a nation already struggling through the ongoing energy crisis.
The unions say there are other ways to ensure there will be money to pay for today’s young people when they retire without raising the retirement age, but many at Tuesday’s protests said the government was simply refusing to listen.
French women say they will lose more than most, and many joined a new protest Wednesday — on International Women’s Day — to make their voices heard in front of the Senate building, where the debate over the bill was continuing inside.
Unions and the demonstrators themselves have promised to keep the protests going until the reforms are withdrawn.