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France is grappling with widespread strikes as unions take to the streets against pension reform


French unions and demonstrators took to the streets on Thursday in mass protests against the government’s planned pension reform.

President Emmanuel Macron’s administration is seeking to raise the official retirement age in France from 62 – lower than in most European countries and the US – to 64. This is the second attempt by the head of state to review the pension system after the cancellation of the 2019 proposal to introduce a point pension system. based on the pension plan during his first term due to public uproar. During his New Year’s address, Macron fixed his focus on pensions, stressing: “This will effectively be the year of retirement.”

Pension reform is “fair and responsible” and should be implemented, Macron said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

Early indications are that the latest bill is proving equally bleak for the French public, with 68% of respondents looking “hostile” to the measure, according to the IFOP study.

French trade unions have come out in a rare common front, coordinating protests against the bill.

“This reform will fully affect all workers and especially those who started work early, the most vulnerable, whose life expectancy is lower than the rest of the population, and those whose level of difficulty of work is not recognized,” the joint statement said. signed by eight syndicates, as translated by CNBC.

The organizations will meet on Thursday evening to decide whether to call further protests.

Rail operator SNCF warned that train services would be “severely disrupted” by the protests from 7pm local time on January 18 until 8am on Friday. Reuters reports that SNCF said only one in three to one in five high-speed TGV lines were operating on Thursday, with limited local and regional trains.

The strikes disrupt traffic on the sea route between Calais and Dover.

“We regret to inform you that sailing is currently suspended due to the National Day of Action in France.” P&O Ferries said on Twitternoting that services would resume Thursday afternoon.

TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyan estimated that the short-term one-day mobilization should not lead to fuel shortages:

“Today, tomorrow, will not affect the work of oil refineries. Oil refineries shut down when they go on strike for days.” – he assessed in an interview with BFM TV, as translated by CNBC. – Don’t panic: warehouses are full, STA is provided.”

Philippe Martínez, general secretary of the General Confederation of Labor (GCT), on January 18 came up with the idea of ​​reducing the supply of electricity to the wealthy classes of France. On Thursday, he appeared to soften that stance during a Public Senate interview when asked if there would be voluntary, targeted blackouts for lawmakers who support the new pension bill:

“This is not part of our habit,” he said, calling his earlier statements more of a symbolic gesture than a threat. He reiterated his objections to the reform plan and stressed the unions’ readiness to continue strikes after the first day of protests: “This is the first day, so we will have others.”

Government spokesman Oliver Veran on Wednesday blasted the perceived threats as “absolutely unacceptable,” according to a translation by CNBC:

He added: “Anything that causes pressure, threats, insults, whether on social media or in real life, in relation to targeted actions against the integrity of the functioning of the parliamentary mandate, is unacceptable in a democracy and a republic, and we condemn it. “

Laurent Berger, secretary general of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT), told BFM TV on Thursday that “there should be a lot of people at these protests”.

He noted: “First, I expect that the workers of this country who object, and there are many of them, to this pension reform project — because they object to [raising] the official retirement age to 64 – protest everywhere in France, in 200 places.’

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