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French unions hold new strikes against Macron pension reform

Tan KW
Publish date: Tue, 06 Jun 2023, 09:17 PM
Tan KW
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French unions are holding a fresh day of strikes against Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform in a test of whether the president has succeeded in getting much of the country to move on from the politically damaging fight.

People face less disruption on Tuesday (June 6) than during previous protests, which stretch back to January. Rail operator SNCF planned to operate nine out of 10 trains, while service is normal on the Paris subway. Some schools are closed.

The biggest impact to transportation will likely be to flights. The DGAC civil aviation authority has asked carriers to cut one-third of services at Paris-Orly airport, as well as one-fifth at airports in Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Toulouse and Nantes.

The latest nationwide protest, the first since May 1, comes two days before a group of independent, centrist lawmakers known as LIOT tries to trigger a vote in the National Assembly to have the reform repealed. The government has already succeeded in watering down the proposal, however, and even if it passes the lower house, it’s not expected to get through the Senate.

Still, France’s leading unions warned against trying to block the vote, saying this would fuel public anger over the increase in the retirement age to 64 from 62, which was signed into law in April and is due to apply from September.

“There is still opposition and anger,” Laurent Berger, the head of the moderate CFDT union, said on Europe1 radio. “The president is taking the wrong path if he thinks that this is over in people’s heads. It’s not true. They haven’t moved on.”

Macron has faced down months of protests and strikes to push through the pension overhaul, which is a key plank in his strategy to improve France’s debt-burdened finances and which he says will protect the retirement system. He provoked the ire of protesters when he used a provision to bypass a full vote on the legislation in parliament.

Anger over the law has seen France top a global ranking of protests, with more than 3,800 through April, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data released by the Armed Conflict Location Event Data Project, which collects local media reports across the world.

In recent weeks, the French leader has sought to convey a conciliatory tone, acknowledging people haven’t accepted the retirement age hike. He has traveled across the country to discuss domestic issues such as wildfires, education and his plans for green reindustrialization in an effort to reset the agenda.

He has also sought to burnish his international image with high-profile trips abroad, including a much-discussed landmark speech on European geopolitics in Bratislava.

There are signs his efforts are starting to pay off. His popularity recovered slightly to 29% in May from 25% in April, according to an Elabe poll for Les Echos newspaper and Radio Classique. A Toluna Harris Interactive poll for AEF Info and RTL showed 40% now back the pension reform, up two points from a month ago, though a majority still support the protests.


  - Bloomberg


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