- The reform will raise the retirement age from 62 to 64
- Schools, transport networks, refinery supplies were affected
- Macron: Reform is key to ensure the viability of the pension system
PARIS, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Striking workers disrupted French refinery supplies, public transport and schools on Tuesday, a second day of nationwide protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to make people work longer hours before retirement.
Masses of people rallied in cities across France to protest against a reform that would raise the retirement age to 64.
Among the rail networks, only one in three high-speed TGV trains operated and fewer local and regional trains. Services on the Paris Metro were disrupted.
Many who marched behind banners reading “No reform” or “We will not give up” said they often took to the streets when the government needed to back down.
“We won’t drive until we’re 64!” Isabelle Texier, a bus driver, said at a demonstration in Saint-Nazaire on the Atlantic coast.
“For the president, it’s easy. He sits in a chair …, he can work until he’s 70,” he said. “We can’t ask roof decks to work until 64, that’s impossible.”
Jan. Unions said preliminary data from protests across the country showed a large turnout, when more than a million people took to the streets on the first day of nationwide strike since 19.
“It’s better than the 19th … It’s a real message sent to the government, saying we don’t want 64 years,” Laurent Berger, who leads France’s largest union CFDT, said ahead of the Paris march.
Polls show a significant majority of French oppose the reform, but Macron wants to stand his ground. He said on Monday that the reform was “crucial” to ensure the viability of the pension system.
Some felt resigned amid bargaining between Macron’s ruling coalition and conservative opponents more open to pension reform than the left.
“There’s no point in going on strike. The bill will be passed anyway,” said Mathieu Jacquot, 34, who works in the luxury sector.
Lower strike take-up
For unions that could announce more industrial action later in the day, maintaining walkouts at a time when high inflation is eroding wages will be a challenge.
Although protest numbers appear to have increased, some initial reports show participation in the strike from January 19 onwards.
A union source said 36.5% of SNCF train operator workers were on strike by midday – down almost 10% since January 19 – even as disruptions to train traffic remained largely the same.
At utility group EDF ( EDF.PA ) 40.3% of workers were on strike, down from 44.5%.
Unions and companies sometimes disagreed on whether this strike was more or less successful than the previous one. For TotalEnergies ( TTEF.PA ), fewer workers at its refineries downed tools, but CGT said there were more.
At the local level, some reported “Robin Hood” activities that were not sanctioned by the government. In the southwestern Lot-et-Garonne region, the local CGT union branch cut power to several speed cameras and disabled smart power meters.
“When there is such massive opposition, it is dangerous for the government not to listen,” said Myleene Jacquot, general secretary of the CFDT’s civil services branch.
The pension system reform will generate an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions, according to Labor Ministry estimates. Unions say there are other ways to raise revenue, such as taxing the super-rich or making employers or well-off pensioners contribute more.
“This reform is unfair and brutal,” said Luc Farray, general secretary of the UNSA union of civil servants.
French electricity was down about 5%, or 3.3 gigawatts (GW), as workers at nuclear reactors and thermal plants joined the strike, EDF data showed.
TotalEnergies said supplies of petroleum products from its French platforms had been halted, but customers’ needs were being met.
The government made some concessions while framing the law. Macron originally wanted to set the retirement age at 65, while the government promised a pension of at least 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; By Ingrid Melander and Richard Lough; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Mark Heinrich
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