On March 8th, an estimated 1.28 million people participated in a nationwide strike against French President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to push forward the retirement age to 64, according to the interior ministry. The figure suggests that the demonstrations were some of the biggest in decades, with the hard-left CGT union putting the number of protesters at 3.5 million.
Disruptions and Protests Across the Country
The strike disrupted train services, shut schools, and halted fuel deliveries on Tuesday, with many protest rallies attracting bigger crowds than previous ones organized since mid-January, including in Marseille, one of France’s biggest cities, according to authorities and local media. There were some clashes on the margins of the Paris rally, and police arrested 22 people.
Union Response and Further Strike Action
Looking to pile pressure on lawmakers, France’s more hardline unions said there would be rolling strikes that could go on for days, at least in some sectors. The CGT union said workers had voted to prolong strikes at all TotalEnergies sites. “The real fight starts now,” said Marin Guillotin, FO union representative at the Donges refinery in western France. “We haven’t been heard or listened to. We are using the only means we have left: it’s the hard strike… we are not going to give up.”
Continued Disruptions on Wednesday
Trains will continue to be disrupted on Wednesday, as will the Paris metro system, although to a slightly lesser degree than on Tuesday, according to the SNCF and RATP transportation companies running them. Truck drivers and garbage collectors joined the strike on Tuesday, as it extended to more sectors.
Government Reforms and Opposition
Macron’s proposal to make people work longer is deeply unpopular among the wider public, according to opinion polls. The government insists its reform plan is essential to ensure the pension system does not go bust. The government also says pensions of the poorest 30% of the population will increase by 2.5 to 5%. Unions say small increases in contributions could keep the pension system solvent. They say the proposed measures are unfair and would disproportionately affect low-skilled workers in tiring jobs who start their careers early. This is a critical time for both sides since Macron’s government is hoping his plan to raise the pension age by two years will be adopted by parliament by the end of the month.