- The reform will raise the retirement age from 62 to 64
- Schools, transportation networks, oil refinery supplies were affected
- Macron: Reforms are essential to ensure the viability of the pension system
PARIS, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Striking workers disrupted French refinery deliveries, public transport and schools on Tuesday in a second day of nationwide protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to force people to work longer before retirement.
Large crowds marched across French cities to denounce the reform, which raised the retirement age by two years to 64 and tested Macron’s ability to push for change as he lost his Labor majority in parliament.
Only a third of high-speed TGV trains were running on the rail networks, and there were even fewer local and regional trains. Services in the Paris metro are in a state of disrepair.
Many marching behind banners reading “No to reform” or “We will not surrender” said they would take to the streets as often as necessary to force the government to back down.
“We won’t drive until we’re 64!” bus driver Isabelle Texier said at a protest in Saint-Nazaire, on the Atlantic coast.
“It is easy for the president. He sits in the chair… he can work until he is 70 years old,” he said. “We can’t ask the roof layers to work until 64, it’s impossible.”
Unions said preliminary data from protests across the country showed greater turnout since Jan. 19, when more than a million people took to the streets in the first national day of public strike.
“It’s better than 19… This is a real message to the government, we don’t want 64,” Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, France’s largest union, said before the Paris march.
Opinion polls show a significant majority of French are against reform, but Macron intends to stand his ground. He said on Monday that the reform was “vital” to ensure the viability of the pension system.
Some resigned amid a deal between Macron’s ruling coalition and his conservative rivals from the left, who are more open to pension reform.
Matthieu Jacquot, 34, who works in the luxury sector, said: “There is no point in the strike. This bill will be passed anyway.”
The challenge for unions, which are expected to announce more industrial action later in the day, will be to walk off the job at a time when high inflation is driving down wages.
Although the number of protests appeared to be increasing, some preliminary data showed that participation in the strikes on Tuesday, January 19, decreased.
A union source said about 36.5% of rail operator SNCF’s workers went on strike at noon, about 10% lower than on January 19 – even if train disruptions were largely similar.
Utility group EDF ( EDF.PA ) said 40.3% of workers were on strike, up from 44.5%.
Unions and companies sometimes disagreed on whether this strike was more or less successful than the previous one. Fewer workers at refineries for TotalEnergies ( TTEF.PA ) had downed tools, but CGT said there were more.
At the local level, some have declared “Robin Hood” operations without government authorization. In the south-western Lot-et-Garonne region, the local CGT union branch cut power to several speed cameras and turned off smart energy meters.
“When there is such massive opposition, it would be dangerous for the government not to listen,” said Mylene Jacquot, general secretary of the CFDT’s civil servants division.
According to Labor Ministry estimates, the pension reform will provide an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions. Unions say there are other ways to raise revenue, such as taxing the super-rich or asking employers or wealthy pensioners to contribute more.
“This reform is unfair and cruel,” said Luc Farre, general secretary of the civil servants’ union UNSA.
France’s power supply fell by about 5%, or 3.3 gigawatts (GW), as workers at nuclear reactors and thermal plants joined the strike, according to EDF.
TotalEnergies said deliveries of oil products from its sites in France had been suspended but that customers’ needs were being met.
The government made some concessions while drafting the bill. Macron originally wanted the retirement age to be set at 65, while the government promises a minimum pension of 1,200 euros a month.
Additional reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Forrest Crellin, Benjamin Mallet, Stephane Mahe, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Leigh Thomas, Michel Rose, Bertrand Boucey; Written by Ingrid Melander and Richard Lough; Edited by Janet Lawrence and Mark Heinrich
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