Macron’s pension plan moves forward despite strikes across France

PARIS (AP) — French people who wanted to keep their pensions took to the streets across the country on Wednesday over President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular retirement plan was validated by a committee of legislators meeting behind closed doors.

Macron had the resources in the Senate-National Assembly joint committee to advance his plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, but it remains to be seen whether it can command a parliamentary majority. If not, Macron should impose the unpopular changes unilaterally.

Unions hope some 200 protests across the country will demonstrate the political ramifications of the change, which Macron has promoted as central to his vision of making France’s economy more competitive..

Economic challenges have led to widespread unrest across Western Europe. Wednesday in England, teachers, junior doctors and public transport workers struck for higher wages to match rising prices. And Spain’s leftist government joined unions in announcing a “historic” deal to save the pension system by increasing social security charges for higher wage earners.

Spain’s solution is exactly what French unions would like, but Macron has refused to raise taxes, saying it would make the country’s economy less competitive. Something needs to be done, the president argued, as France’s retired population is expected to increase from 16 to 21 million people by 2050.

Loud music and huge union balloons heralded the demonstration in Paris, near Napoleon’s tomb at the golden dome Invalides. A series of banners set the scene: “They say capitalism. We say fight,” read one. Others said “Paris furious”, or “If rights are not defended, they will be trampled underfoot.”

“If we don’t speak up now, all our rights that the French fought for will be lost.” said Nicolas Durand, a 33-year-old actor. “Macron is out of touch and in bed with the rich. It’s easy for the people in government to say you have to work harder, but their lives have been easy.”

A sanitation strike in its 10th day has flooded Paris with piles of rancid rubbish, which police ordered to clear along the march route after troublemakers used rubbish to start fires or threw rubbish at police during recent demonstrations.

Demonstrators, accompanied by a heavy security force, moved through the Left Bank along unobstructed streets. A group of black-clad troublemakers formed and attacked a small business, and 22 people were detained, police in Paris said.

According to French media, security forces also countered the violence with denunciations and tear gas in several other cities, including Rennes and Nantes in eastern France and Lyon in the south-east.

The National Assembly’s committee of seven senators and seven lawmakers agreed on the final text on Wednesday, and a conservative Senate majority in favor of raising the retirement age is expected to approve it as early as Thursday.

The situation in the National Assembly is much more complicated.

Macron’s centrist alliance lost its majority in parliamentary elections last year, leaving the government to count on the votes of the Conservatives to pass the bill. Left-wing and far-right lawmakers are fiercely opposed and conservatives are divided, making the outcome unpredictable.

Macron hosted an evening strategy session with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and ministers responsible for the bill at the Elysee presidential palace. Approval in the National Assembly on Thursday would give the plan more legitimacy, but rather than risk rejection, Macron could instead use his special constitutional power to force the bill through parliament without a vote.

French government spokesman Olivier Véran said on Wednesday that the bill will continue its way through the legislative process, respecting “all the rules provided for by our constitution”.

Republican party lawmaker Aurelien Pradié — who opposes the reforms — said on Wednesday that if this special power were used, he would file charges with the constitutional council, a higher French judicial body.

Train drivers, teachers, longshoremen, oil refinery workers and others walked alongside garbage collectors from work on Wednesday, maneuvering past thousands of tons of garbage piling up on the sidewalks of Paris and other French cities.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin asked Paris City Hall to force some garbage collectors to return to work, calling it a public health problem.

Paris mayor, socialist Anne Hidalgo, said she supports the strike. Government spokeswoman Véran warned that if she does not comply, the Interior Ministry is prepared to act instead.

Public transport has been disrupted in the meantime: about 40% of the high-speed trains and half of the regional trains have failed. The Paris Metro has been delayed and the French aviation authority warned of delays saying 20% ​​of flights at Paris-Orly airport have been cancelled.

Paris police said 37,000 people took part in the French capital, 11,000 fewer than Saturday, even as polls show widespread opposition to the pension law. The leading CGT union said 450,000 participants took part in Paris and 1.7 million across France.

“It’s those who work the hardest who get a bad deal. It always is,” says Magali Brutel, a 41-year-old nurse. “Very wealthy people could pay more taxes – that’s a good solution to pay for an aging population. Why do we effectively tax the oldest and the poorest?”


Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed.

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