Demonstrators during a protest against pension reform in Paris on February 11, 2023.
Paris – Protests continued in cities across France today against the government's pension reform, which would raise the retirement age for most French people from 62 to 64. Trade unions organized the fourth “mobilization” against this year's proposal in an attempt to force the government and President Emmanuel Macron to change course. They recently announced that they will call a general strike on March 7 if their demands are not met. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 963,000 people took part in today's demonstrations, which is more than on Tuesday, but less than at the beginning of the protests. However, the CGT trade union center claims that “more than 2.5 million people took to the streets”.
The protests began on January 19, just days after the government's plan was unveiled, and continued on January 31 and this Tuesday. The fourth round of demonstrations was the first to be called on a non-working day so that people who could not take time off from work at other times could participate. “It's maybe the only moment I can come, now I have a chance,” high school principal Sandrine Thouron told AFP at the march in Toulouse.
“I'm here for my mother, who has depression from work and lived burnout syndrome, and for all the old people I see doing hard work,” said 18-year-old receptionist Nicolas Garcia, who demonstrated in Clermont-Ferrand for the first time in his life.
Unionists had hoped for a strong turnout that would send a clear signal to the government after a decline in interest during the previous round of demonstrations. Police put the turnout at 757,000 on Tuesday, compared to about 1.27 million protesters a week earlier. The French media wrote on Friday that the authorities expected 600,000 to 800,000 people in the streets before the new mobilization.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, 963,000 people took part in today's demonstrations, according to the unions more than 2.5 million, the BFMTV station reported on her website.
Opposition MP Marine Le Pen wrote on Twitter, that after such a mobilization the government “will no longer be able to look elsewhere and refuse to listen to the French”, rejecting the pension reform.
In the morning, the marches started in Toulouse and Strasbourg, and around 1:00 p.m. the demonstration in Paris, planned on the route from Republic Square to Place de la Nation, also started. The CGT trade union headquarters estimated the number of demonstrators in the capital at half a million, while the police said there were 93,000, BFMTV reported. Due to clashes with the police, ten people were detained, one policeman was hospitalized with an eye injury, the Paris prefecture said.
In Toulouse, according to the organizers, 100,000 people marched, which is a higher estimate than the previous two demonstrations in this southern French city. In Marseille, according to the organizers, the participation was even higher: 140,000 people.
Previous protest days were associated with strikes in the public sector, which significantly disrupted public transport and school education. Today, this scenario is not repeated, however, Paris Orly Airport reported an unannounced strike by flight controllers around noon. The result is the cancellation of half of the flights, BFMTV wrote.
The core of the conflict is the government's effort to increase the minimum retirement age by two years by 2030 and also to cancel most of the special regimes in the pension system. The plan stems from President Macron's long-standing policy, and its masterminds defend it as an effort to reverse the unprofitability of the current setup. The French pension system is described as relatively generous, and the French spend, on average, the most years in retirement of any country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Polls indicate that most of the country does not agree with the change, Reuters reports.
As the government tries to push the reform through parliament, more protests and strikes are on the horizon. Already within a week, the unions announced another mobilization on February 16, and after today's meeting they announced a March general strike. If the government does not withdraw its proposal, it will try to “stop” life in France, the director of the FO union, Frédéric Souillot, said on behalf of the leading trade unions.