- Paris restaurant attacked where president celebrated 2017 win
- Unions plan 12th day of protests on April 13 ahead of ruling
William Horobin, Bloomberg News
EnergiesNet.com 04 06 2023
French unions led another wave of strikes and protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, capitalizing on broad public support for a movement that has caused trash to pile up on the streets of Paris and sporadically turned violent.
The bill to raise France’s minimum retirement age by two years to 64 has already passed parliament, but labor organizations plan to keep pressure on the president to back down with a 12th round of action on April 13 — a day before a Constitutional Council ruling on the conformity of the overhaul.
“In what can only be described as a democratic and social crisis, the government is digging in its heels and alone bears the responsibility for an explosive situation in the whole country,” Patricia Drevon, of the Force Ouvriere union, told a news conference.
The protests continue to rally large numbers, tapping into rising anger after the government used a provision to dodge a National Assembly vote on the text. Still, turnout on Thursday was well below the average since the strikes began in mid-January.
Scuffles broke out in cities including Paris. AFP reported that 111 people were arrested and 154 police officers were injured, citing the Interior Ministry.
A march through the capital’s Left Bank was interrupted as some protesters attacked the storied La Rotonde brasserie, a former haunt of Hemingway and Fitzgerald where Macron celebrated his victory in the first round of the 2017 presidential election.
Protesters briefly stormed a central Paris building that houses the offices of asset manager BlackRock Inc. The US firm declined to comment. A group of about 30 people also entered the offices of Natixis SA, a spokesman for the bank told Bloomberg.
Some rail services and flights were canceled on Thursday, though subway services in the capital were mostly running normally. Garbage collectors have returned to work but plan to resume open-ended strikes next Thursday.
“We’re in a long-distance race,” Sophie Binet, the new leader of the leftist CGT union, said at the start of the march in Paris. “The government can’t run the country if it doesn’t withdraw this reform.”
The conflict over pensions is threatening to engulf Macron’s agenda of pro-business economic change that he has led since first taking office in 2017. Backing down at this late stage of the legislative process would be a hobbling political defeat, yet going ahead risks cementing his lack of a majority in parliament and destroying relations with unions that the government needs to work with on future overhauls.
The political debacle is also benefiting the far-right National Rally party. According to one survey by Ifop of 1,105 adults March 30-31, if there were a presidential election this weekend, perennial nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen would lead the first round of voting against any of Macron’s allies with as much as 36% of the vote. He cannot run for a third term in 2027.
Note: April 5 poll of 1,448 French adults for RTL radio and AEF info
A separate poll of 1,000 people by Elabe on Thursday showed Macron’s approval rating fell seven points in the last month to 25% — the lowest since the Yellow Vest protests that began in 2018.
The government and unions are now focused on the decision of the Constitutional Council, which will also rule on an opposition-backed request to put the bill to a referendum. However, unless it rejects the reform outright, the conflict over pensions will likely continue — at least until Macron enacts the changes later this year.
“A legal decision would add legitimacy to the law, but it wouldn’t erase political disagreements,” Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt said on BFM TV on Thursday.
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Macron’s government says raising the pension age is vital to boost employment rates and halt the build-up of deficits in the massive public retirement system as the population ages. Unions say changing the age thresholds to claim a full pension will disproportionately penalize the least well-off and that there are other options to balance the system, including higher taxes on business and the wealthy.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne called a meeting with the leaders of France’s main unions on Wednesday in an attempt to discuss future changes to labor laws. They walked out after less than an hour as she refused their demands to drop the pension reform.
— With assistance by Jenny Che, Maeva Cousin and Alexandre Rajbhandari
bloomberg.com 04 06 2023