Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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France seized by an 11th day of nationwide strikes, protests

Anger over French President Emmanuel Macron's pension cuts remains high, ahead of a Constitutional Council ruling next week on the legality of ramming through the reforms without a parliamentary vote.

(CN) — France was the scene of massive protests, new clashes between demonstrators and police and widespread strikes on Thursday as public anger remains high three weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron rammed through unpopular pension cuts without the parliament's approval.

Thursday was the 11th day of nationwide action since all eight of France's major trade unions began mobilizing against Macron's plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Strikes by public workers disrupted schools, ports, transport and many other public sector workers. Garbage collectors in Paris said they will resume their strike following a brief interval. For days last month, trash piled up in the French capital, drawing embarrassing international headlines.

On March 16, Macron was forced to use a constitutional device to bypass a vote in the National Assembly to get his pension reforms through. His maneuver was denounced as undemocratic and added fuel to the protests, which have become more violent. He was afraid of seeing his pension plans shot down in a narrow parliamentary vote.

Thursday's demonstrations remained large with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets, though there are signs that the protest movement may be waning. A critical moment will take place next Friday when the Constitutional Council, France's arbiter on constitutional matters, is scheduled to issue a decision on whether Macron's move to bypass parliament was legal.

The protests on Thursday became unruly in Paris and other cities. In the capital, striking rail workers momentarily invaded the French headquarters of BlackRock, the world's largest asset management firm, shouting anti-capitalist slogans and lighting off smoke bombs. BlackRock is housed in a splendid building known as the Centorial, formerly the headquarters of Credit Lyonnais, the old French bank.

Also in Paris, protesters attacked the Cafe de la Rotonde, a famous brasserie in the Montparnasse area where Macron celebrated his presidential victory in 2017.

Lines of police stood guard in front of the cafe under a barrage of items tossed at them by protesters, including bottles, paint and small explosives. The awning of the cafe was damaged after protesters lit it on fire.

Macron's government has refused to back down. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne met with trade union leaders on Wednesday, but their talks were fruitless.

Laurent Berger, the union head of the centrist French Democratic Confederation of Labor, said the hope is for the Constitutional Council to reject the law.

“Our democracy needs appeasement, and this appeasement would be for the text not to be applied,” he told reporters.

However, experts do not expect the constitutional chamber to declare the pension reforms unlawful. Union leaders have vowed to press on with their strikes and protests to force Macron to capitulate.

The president, though, has made raising the age of retirement pivotal to his second term in office and shown no willingness to reverse course even though his popularity has sunk in polls. A new survey shows far-right Marine Le Pen surpassing him in popularity. About two-thirds of French are opposed to the pension cuts.

Macron argues that raising the pension age must be done to ensure the country's financial stability in the coming years. He also says people live longer now and that France needs to get in line with other European nations where people retirement later.

But critics question the financial arguments for raising the age of retirement and argue the pension system's solvency is safe because of previous changes that will bring more money into the system.

Raising the pension age is seen as hurting those who work in physically demanding jobs and women the most.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @https://twitter.com/cainburdeau
Categories / Civil Rights, Employment, Government, International, Politics

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