New street protests in France amid pension strikes
PARIS – Opponents of President Emmanuel Macron's proposed overhaul of France's pension system marched in Paris and other French cities Thursday on what is the 43rd day of strike action that has hobbled trains and public transport.
At the call of trade unions, train and metro workers, teachers and others took to the French capital's streets to demand that the government scrap its pension proposals.
Police were out in force but the march across southern Paris was calm, and the number of protesters was down compared to previous marches. The Interior Ministry put the number of marchers in the capital at 23,000 and 187,000 nationally — compared to a count by unions of 250,000.
Philippe Martinez, the leader of the far-left CGT union, said the det ermination "is just as big” as at the start of the strikes Dec.5
“It's never too late to make the government cede," he said.
The unions widely perceived to be most left-wing said they remained unsatisfied despite the government's decision last week to suspend a central piece of the proposed reform plan, that of raising the retirement age to qualify for a full pension from 62 to 64. They want the government to scrap other changes they fear would force them to work longer for less money.
Legislation incorporating other parts of the government's pension reform plan is to be presented at a Cabinet meeting next week. After that, there would be a three-month discussion with unions about financing the new pension system, including potential measures to raise taxes or the retirement age.
Macron says the new system, which aims at unifying 42 state-funded pension regimes, will be fairer and more sustainable.
“He (Macron) has always had disdain for us," said Eric Delaunay, a train driver. "43 days of strikes for railway workers, Metro workers and for some in the private sector and he is deaf to it.”
He said that he and his wife, also a railroad worker, prepared for the strike when money would be tight, packing the freezer and buying 25 kilos (55 pounds) of potatoes.
Macron called this week for “calm and clarity” and promised a better explanation of what the changes will mean for different French workers.
The weeks of strikes and protests have hobbled public transportation and disrupted schools, hospitals, courthouses and even opera houses.
While the number of striking workers has diminished, since Dec. 5,, the country's trains and Paris subways were still disrupted Thursday.
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