French Protesters Vow No Let-Up in Bitter Pension Battle
In the latest chapter of France’s ongoing battle over pension reform, hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets, vowing to continue their fight against President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed changes. Despite harsh crackdowns by police and government officials, the protesters remain determined to make their voices heard, claiming they are the only check on Macron’s power.
Clashes broke out in several cities, including in Paris, where some protesters briefly set fire to the awning of a famed brasserie prized by the French president.
Macron, currently on a visit to China, is facing the biggest challenge of his second term over his fiercely contested pension overhaul, which his government rammed through parliament without a vote, using special executive powers. The move furthered enraged critics of his plans to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, sparking days of unrest and fuelling talk of a political and institutional crisis.
This Thursday marks the eleventh day of protests and strikes against President Emmanuel Macron’s deeply unpopular pension reform, with protesters determined to keep up the pressure ahead of a key court ruling.
The protests have grown in intensity and scope, with workers from all sectors joining together to demand that the government scrap its plans to raise the retirement age and cut benefits. Critics say the proposed reforms would disproportionately harm low-income workers and women, who often have less access to pensions and rely more heavily on government benefits.
In response, Macron has accused the protesters of trying to “block the country” and threatened to use force to break up their demonstrations. But the protesters remain undaunted, saying they will not back down until their demands are met.
Despite the government’s efforts to paint the protesters as troublemakers and extremists, many ordinary French citizens remain sympathetic to their cause, and the protests show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. As the battle over pension reform continues to rage on, it remains to be seen who will emerge victorious in this bitter and divisive struggle.
‘People are not resigned – they’re enraged’
The pension reform proposed by Macron has sparked a deep sense of injustice among the French people, whose national motto “égalité” (equality) is now being questioned. This sentiment has been a significant factor fueling the widespread protests across the nation, which have drawn millions from diverse political affiliations and regions, reflecting the broad-based nature of the discontent.
Many prominent politicians and labor leaders, have praised their determination and courage in the face of government repression.
“We are the only check on Macron’s power,” said one protester, who declined to give her name. “He wants to push through these changes without any input from us, the people who will be affected by them. But we will not stand idly by while he tries to take away our rights and our futures.”
“The protesters are fighting for their livelihoods and their dignity,” said Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-left La France Insoumise party. “We stand with them in their struggle against Macron’s cruel and unjust policies.”
Macron’s government argues that raising the retirement age and stiffening the requirements for a full pension are required to balance the pension system amid rising life expectancy.
However, a united front of French unions, however, says the proposed measures are unfair and will disproportionately affect low-skilled workers who start their careers early, as well as women.
The notion of pénibilité (arduousness) in particular has been a recurrent theme, with protesters lamenting the government’s refusal to acknowledge the hardship endured by low-income workers who perform physically-draining tasks. Macron has in the past said he was “not a fan” of the word pénibilité, “because it suggests that work is a pain”.
Such statements reflect the government’s “disconnect from real life”, said a group of striking workers from the Prince de Galles luxury hotel in Paris, rallying in the French capital.
“Politicians have no idea what it means to carry heavy trays and lift mattresses all day long,” said their union representative. “They wouldn’t last a week in our job – let alone work till they’re 64.”
Among the crowd, some hardline protesters pelted paint against the shields of heavily equipped policemen outside La Rotonde, a famous brasserie favoured by Macron. Its red awning briefly caught fire, before the flames were put out.
Earlier in the day, striking railway workers stormed the former headquarters of the Crédit Lyonnais bank, a building that now houses companies including the BlackRock investment firm. In the western city of Nantes, several protesters threw rocks at police, who responded with tear gas.
Rallies were otherwise largely peaceful, featuring brass bands and dancing demonstrators.
“At every new rally I turn up fearing the movement has petered out, but it hasn’t,” said Hortense, a publisher in her 30s who attended all 11 protests in Paris. “People are so fed up they are ready to sacrifice their finances,” she added, pointing to the huge cost for workers of striking on multiple days.
All sides in the standoff are awaiting an April 14 verdict on the validity of the reform by France’s Constitutional Council, which has the power to strike down part or even all of the legislation.
While council members, known as the sages (wise ones), are expected to make a decision based on legal – not political – considerations, unions are determined to show the protest movement born in January still has momentum. They have already called for a 12th day of strikes and protests next Thursday, on the eve of the ruling.
The French pension battle is far from over. The protesters have shown incredible determination and resilience in the face of government opposition. They believe that they are the only check on Macron’s power and that their fight is not just about pensions, but about the future of French democracy. The world is watching, and the French people are not backing down.