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France national strike over pension reform: Why are workers so angry?

France is experiencing a national strike following President Emmanuel Macron’s omission of Parliament to pass the divisive Pension Bill, which would raise retirement age by 2 years.

Co-ordinated strikes will cause widespread chaos in the country and travel disruptions to and from France.

French airports will be affected, with Paris Orly airport experiencing a 30% reduction in its flight schedule according to the Directorate General for Civil Aviation.

Eurostar announced that eight of its trains will be suspended while it implements a revised schedule.


French domestic travel will also be affected. France’s state-owned railway company SNCF said it expects severe disruption with reduced TGV and TER services.

Transport workers will take to the picket lines, threatening Paris Metro and other public transport modes.

This industrial action could escalate violently, echoing the demonstrations of recent days in France.

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Image A demonstrator hurls a projectile during clashes in Nantes (France).

Why do people strike and protest?

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

According to opinion polls, the vast majority of voters are against the pension reforms. Trade unions also argue that there are better ways to balance the pension system account.

Workers from all sectors, including transport, sanitary and refinery, marched in solidarity against the bill.

French streets are now littered with bins, especially in Paris, where nearly 10,000 tonnes of rubbish remain uncollected.

Image Woman walks past garbage bags in Paris

How did Macron get the retirement bill passed?

Elisabeth Borne (current PM of the French president) announced the proposed changes to pensions on 10 January.

Last week, Mr Macron pushed the pension reform through without a vote using Article49.3, which is a French constitutional part that allows the government to pass laws without the need for a vote from MPs.

What has been the country’s reaction to the situation?

People flocked to the streets after the bill was passed on 16 March.

Unplanned protest at the Place de la Concorde, Paris – across River Seine from assembly – saw around 7,000 people.

According to Reuters, the Riot Police used tear gas and a water cannon in dispersing protesters while officers charged with groups of demonstrators were hit with stones. Paris firefighters were also called in to put out the flames.

More than 300 activists were detained.

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France: Police spray protesters

The president survived despite a’spectacular fail’

Jean-Luc Melenchon (leader of the left-wing party France Insoumise) called it “a spectacular failure”.

He said, “This bill does not have any parliamentary legitimacy. It has no legitimacy from the street.”

However, the president narrowly survived two motions de no confidence on 21 March by nine votes, after they were submitted by both centrist MPs as well as those of the far-right National Rally.

The vote of the centrist group was the first at the National Assembly. 278 MPs voted in favor, which is higher than expected, but still short of the 287 required to pass the motion.

Why is Macron claiming he’s bringing about change?

Macron spoke publicly for the first times since reforms were passed through parliament. He said that the retirement system required a change in order to continue its financing.

Macron stated: “That isn’t a luxury, that is not fun, that is a necessity for our country.”

France’s current state retirement age, 62, is lower than that of many European neighbors. It’s 66 in the UK, 66 in Germany, Italy, and 65 for Spain.

The generous welfare state has weighed on the economy and workforce for a long time, but it is slowly shrinking.

France has 1.7 workers per pensioner, a drop of 2.1 from 2000.

Sky News spoke to David S Bell, an emeritus professor of French politics and government at the University of Leeds. He said: “[Mr Macron] argues that unless these reforms and the French work life is extended, the country will not be able afford it.

What’s next?

Macron stated that the changes in retirement age would “continue its democratic course” and that they would have to be implemented by “the end of the year”.

Only after the Constitutional Council has reviewed the bill over the next few weeks can this be made legal.

Macron stated that he respected the protests against reforms but condemned the violence that arose from them last week.


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