National strike against pension reform: Why are workers so angry? | world news

A nationwide strike is taking place in France after President Emmanuel Macron bypassed parliament to push through the pensions bill that would split the retirement age by two years.

Coordinated strikes expected to cause widespread national chaos, as well as disruption of travel to and from France.

French airports will be affected, with Paris Orly airport seeing its flight schedule reduced by 30% according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC).

Eurostar has announced that eight of its trains will be suspended due to a revised timetable.

French domestic travel will also take a hit. SNCF, France’s state-owned rail company, said it expected severe disruption with reduced TGV, TER and Intercite services.

The Paris metro and other modes of public transport will be affected as transport workers take to the picket lines.

Industrial action could turn violent, mimicking recent days of protests across France.

A protester throws a projectile amid clashes in Nantes, France

Why are people protesting and striking?

of President Macron The plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 is deeply unpopular.

Opinion polls show that the vast majority of voters oppose pension reforms, as do unions, who argue there are other ways to balance the account of the pension system.

So, as a collective force, workers in transport, sanitation, refineries, education and beyond demonstrated in their respective cities and towns against the bill.

French streets are lined with overflowing bins, especially in Paris where nearly 10,000 tons of waste remain uncollected.

A woman walks past piles of garbage bags on a street as overflowing rubbish was not collected due to a garbage collectors' strike against the French government's pension reform, in Paris, France, March 17, 2023. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
A woman walks past piles of trash bags in Paris

How did Macron manage to pass the pension bill?

The current Prime Minister of the French President, Elisabeth Borne, announced on January 10 the proposed changes to pensions.

Last week, Mr Macron forced pension reform by the National Assembly without a vote using Article 49.3, a part of the French constitution that allows the government to pass a law without a vote of deputies.

What has been the reaction and effect on the country so far?

After the bill was forced into law on March 16, people came out in droves to protest.

About 7,000 people took part in an unscheduled rally in Place de la Concorde in Paris – across the Seine from the assembly.

Riot police fired tear gas and used a water cannon to disperse protesters, while officers who charged groups of protesters had stones thrown at them, according to a Reuters reporter. Firefighters were also called to put out fires in Paris.

More than 300 activists were arrested.

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France: Police pulverize protesters

A “spectacular failure” but the president survives

The move was called a “spectacular failure” by Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the left-wing France Insoumise (France Insoumise) party.

“This bill has no parliamentary legitimacy, no street legitimacy,” he said during a protest outside parliament.

However, on March 21, the President narrowly survived two motions of no confidence by nine votes after they were tabled by the centrist deputies and those of the extreme right of the National Rally.

The centrist group’s vote was the first in the National Assembly, with 278 MPs voting in favor – more than expected but just short of the 287 needed to pass the motion.

Why does Macron say he is bringing change?

Speaking publicly for the first time since the reforms were forced through parliament, President Macron said the pension system needed change to keep it funded.

Mr Macron said: ‘This reform is not a luxury, it is not fun, it is a necessity for the country’

Currently, the legal retirement age in France is 62, well below that of many of its European neighbours. In the UK it is 66, Germany and Italy 67 and Spain 65.

Its generous welfare state has long weighed heavily on the economy and the gradually shrinking workforce.

There are only 1.7 workers for every retiree in France, compared to 2.1 in 2000.

David S Bell, Emeritus Professor of French Government and Politics at the University of Leeds, told Sky News: “[Mr Macron’s] The argument is that unless these reforms are made and French working life is lengthened, the country will not be able to afford it.”

And after?

Mr Macron said changes to the retirement age would “continue his democratic path” and should be implemented by the “end of the year”.

This can only be legalized once the Constitutional Council has examined the bill in the coming weeks.

Mr Macron said he “respected” the protests against the reforms, but “condemned” the resulting violence last week.


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