PARIS (AP) — A fifth day of nationwide strikes and protests in France Thursday tested the government's resolve on a controversial pension reform, the flagship policy of President Emmanuel Macron’s second term.
This latest in a series of protests that began last month is expected to be less disruptive that on previous occasions, with the Paris Metro and most main line train services working normally and most schools unaffected. Fewer people were expected this time amid school holidays and as unions look toward March 7, when a rolling general strike has been called.
A railway worker walkout will, however, disrupt high-speed TGV trains and regional services. Almost a third of flights were canceled at Paris’ second busiest airport, Orly, and traffic will be interrupted at regional airports as well.
“These reforms are robbing people of their rights. I'm here today to show (President) Macron that he cannot be deaf and that there are consequences when you try to defy the majority of the country,” said Pierre-Yves Toudic, a 34-year-old engineer who was protesting at the Bastille Plaza in central Paris.
The proposed pension reforms — aimed at raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 — have unleashed the most turbulent debate in years in the National Assembly, with uncertainty looming over the final outcome.
Opponents filed thousands of amendments to delay debate, now making it uncertain if the lower house will actually get to debate the famed article 7, which sets out the change to the age of retirement, before a key deadline on Friday. The pension bill — whether or not it has been fully debated — will then automatically go to the Senate, the upper house, for consideration.
Lawmakers on Thursday afternoon were debating amendments related to article 2, out of 20 articles in the bill. The legislative process is not expected to end for several weeks.
Despite opinion polls consistently showing growing opposition to the reform and his own popularity shrinking, Macron insists that he’s living up to a key campaign pledge he made when he swept to power in 2017 and before his April 2022 reelection.
The powerful hard-left union, the CGT, is also keeping its eye on March 7, when unions threaten to bring France to its knees. CGT head Philippe Martinez said the strategy was to “keep up pressure on lawmakers” to reject the bill. The union this week called on support from trash collectors, which could see trash piling up in the French streets.
Jeffrey Schaeffer contributed