France: France faced with the “blocking” of demonstrations against the overhaul of pensions

PARIS: the trade of France unions heads for a crucial showdown against the president Emmanuel Macron Tuesday, with new strikes and protests planned against a controversial pension reform that would push back the retirement age for millions of people.
Unions have pledged to hold the country to a halt on the proposed changes, which include raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 and increasing the number of years people must contribute for a pension at full rate.
“I call on all employees, citizens and retirees in the country who are against pension reform to demonstrate massively,” CFDT union leader Laurent Berger told France Inter radio on Monday.
“The president cannot remain deaf” to the protests, he added.
Macron put the plan at the center of his re-election campaign last year, and his cabinet says the changes are essential to prevent the pension system from falling into deficit in years to come.
But they are facing fierce resistance from parliament and the streets, with almost two in three people across the country backing the protests against her, according to a poll by the Elabe survey group released on Monday.
“They’re right to be striking,” said Ali Tourea 28-year-old construction worker as he waited for a delayed RER at a station north of Paris.
“Manual labor is hard. It’s okay if I’m late for a month, my boss will wait!” he said.
The hardline CGT union said fuel deliveries from refineries across France had been blocked from Tuesday morning, which could see petrol stations run out if protests continue as unions hope.
“The strike started everywhere…with deliveries blocked from all refineries this morning,” said Eric Sellini, branch coordinator for the CGT.
– Over a million expected – Unions have warned of rolling public transport strikes that could paralyze parts of the country for weeks.
Police expect 1.1 million to 1.4 million people to take to the streets on Tuesday in more than 260 localities across the country, a source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The upper limit of this range would mean stronger opposition than in the previous five days of rallies that have taken place since mid-January.
In the biggest day of protests yet, 1.27 million people demonstrated on January 31, according to official figures.
Demonstrations were already forming early Tuesday morning, with the public road information service reporting that a national road in the city of Rennes had been blocked by around 100 demonstrators since 1 a.m.
As Tuesday approached, the unions had promised to bring the country “to a standstill”.
Only one in five regional and high-speed trains are expected to run, while a leading trade unionist representing refinery workers has pledged to bring the French economy “to its knees”.
School teachers must also organize walkouts.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on French television on Monday that if she respected the right to demonstrate, a nationwide status quo would above all penalize “the most fragile” of the population.
– ‘Need to work longer’ – The government has argued the changes are crucial to prevent France’s pension system from falling into serious deficits in coming years.
“If we want to maintain this system, we have to work longer,” Macron said last month.
But unions dispute that conclusion and say small increases in dues could keep it solvent. They also argue that the proposed measures are unfair and would disproportionately affect low-skilled workers in tiring jobs who start their careers early.
According to a survey by Elabe, 56% of respondents said they supported rotating strikes and 59% backed the call for the country to shut down.
The bill is currently being debated in the upper house of parliament, after two weeks of heated debates in the lower house that ended without even reaching a vote on raising the retirement age.
Monday’s debate in the Senate dragged on until after 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, with the body’s right-wing majority rejecting alternative proposals for funding the pension system put forward by the left. The debate is expected to resume at 2:30 p.m.
The centrist government hopes to push the reform through parliament with help from the right, without resorting to a controversial mechanism that would bypass a parliamentary vote but risk fueling more protests.


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