Protests in France demand the cancellation of President Macron’s proposed pension reform

Protests in France demand the cancellation of President Macron’s proposed pension reform

On Saturday, opponents of French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 staged new protests in various parts of France to demand the withdrawal of the unpopular plan. While determination remained high, the crowds were smaller than in past protests.

This was the seventh round of protests since January and the second round in four days. The ongoing strikes in key sectors, from energy to transport and garbage workers, supported the nationwide marches. As a result, uncollected trash piled up in Paris and other cities.

Notably, police clashed with troublemakers in several cities, particularly in Paris, where intruders dressed in black set fires to piles of trash along the march route and destroyed bus stops, a street lamp, and other urban equipment.

Such “radical elements” often join protests to cause trouble. In response, police charged, tackled and pepper-sprayed them. Paris police said 30 people were detained. The Interior Ministry reported that 368,000 people protested across France, with 48,000 protesters in Paris.

These numbers were significantly less than the over one million people who marched in cities and towns on Tuesday to denounce the retirement plan, which is widely seen as unjust.

Geraldine Carbonell, a 47-year-old public housing employee, criticized the plan, arguing that it was wrong to make everyone work until age 64. She said, “We are not all equal in as far as the jobs we are doing are concerned. Sixty-four years, whether you’re a worker or an executive, is not the same.”

The protest marches coincided with debate on the government’s pension reform bill in the Senate, where the clock was ticking to meet a Sunday midnight vote deadline before the legislation moves to the next step in a complex process. Macron’s refusal to accept union leaders’ request for a meeting fueled the determination of protesters, the leader of the leftist CGT union said ahead of Saturday’s march in Paris.

Philippe Martinez insisted that there was more anger among the protesters and that refusing to meet the union leaders organizing the protests was an insult amounting to “giving the finger.” Instead of meeting with the union leaders, Macron wrote a letter to them.

He said he chose to “make the French work a little longer” because other options would have involved “decreasing pensions, raising taxes or letting our children and grandchildren carry the financial burden.”

On Friday, the government asked for a special procedure to speed up the process by scheduling a single vote on the entire bill, rather than separate votes on each article and hundreds of amendments.

If the bill is approved by the conservative-controlled Senate, as expected, it would continue next week on its way through France’s complex legislative process. The government has not ruled out invoking a special constitutional power to force the bill through parliament without a vote.

Laurent Berger, head of the moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), said that using the special power, even if legal, would be undemocratic. “The fight is not lost,” he said. Meanwhile, Martinez, the CGT leader, suggested a referendum on the retirement plan. “Since (Macron) is so sure of himself, he should consult the people,” Martinez said. “We’ll see the response.”

Polls consistently show that a majority of people oppose the retirement plan. However, the turnout in morning protests in several cities, including in Nice, the Riviera city, was lower than during Tuesday’s marches.

The Paris march also appeared thinner, although no official figures were immediately available. Berger, the CFDT leader, brushed aside the numbers, which unions cited in the past to demonstrate that popular opinion stood against the retirement plan. “Sometimes when there are fewer people in the streets, there is more anger in the head,”

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