Protests across France after Macron doubles down on pensions
PARIS, March 23 (Reuters) - French workers angry with President Emmanuel Macron and his plan to raise the pension age blocked access to a terminal at Paris' main airport on Thursday as part of a nationwide day of protests, forcing some travellers to get there on foot.
At Roissy-Charles De Gaulle airport and across the country, wildcat actions by small groups of protesters blocked roads and access to schools and universities, while protesters gathered with banners reading “No to the pension reform.”
Near Toulouse, in the southwest, plumes of smoke were seen rising from burning piles of debris blocking traffic on a highway. Union activists also blocked the train tracks at Paris’ Gare de Lyon station, BFM TV footage showed.
Opinion polls have long shown that a majority of voters were opposed to delaying retirement age by two years to 64.
Voters were further angered by the government’s decision last week to push the pension changes through parliament without a vote, and by Macron’s defiant comments on Wednesday.
“I’m on strike to protest against the pensions reform, but also against what is happening in the government,” 27-year-old Air France programming officer Lucile Bidet said at a rally in Nantes.
“They’re not listening to the people anymore.”
Macron broke weeks of silence on the new policy to say he would stand firm and the law would come into force by the end of they year, at one point comparing the protests to the January 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Macron’s comments “increased the anger,” Laurent Berger, the head of France’s biggest union, the moderate CFDT, told BFM TV.
“He’s the one setting the country on fire,” Celine Verzeletti of the hardline CGT union, told France Inter radio station.
Electricity output was also cut on Thursday as unions raised pressure on the government to withdraw the law. Flight services will continue to be reduced at the weekend, France’s civil aviation authority said.
Protests also targeted oil depots and blocked an LNG terminal in the northern city of Dunkirk.
Protests against the new law, which also accelerates a planned increase in the number of years one must work to draw a full pension, have drawn huge crowds in rallies organised by unions since January.
Most protests have been peaceful, but anger has mounted since the government bypassed a vote in the lower house of parliament, where it does not have an absolute majority and was not sure to get enough support.
Since then, the past seven nights have seen demonstrations in Paris and other cities with rubbish bins set ablaze and scuffles with police.
The latest wave of protests represents the most serious challenge to the president’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago.
“The street has a legitimacy in France. If Mr Macron can’t remember this historic reality, I don’t know what he is doing here,” 42-year old entertainment show worker Willy Mancel said at the Nantes rally.
Losing pay days when on strike takes a toll at a time of high inflation, and the government will be hoping that protests and strikes eventually lose steam.
Macron said on Wednesday that he had tasked his prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, with finding more support for the government. He said he wanted to involve unions more on upcoming policy changes on issues including schools, health or the environment.
Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said the government was not in denial about the tensions but wanted to move on.
“There are many subjects which make it possible to renew a dialogue,” he said, including how companies share their profits with workers.
By Lucien Libert and Stephane Mahe
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Forrest Crellin, John Irish, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Lucien Libert, Stephane Mahe, Eric Gaillard; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Christina Fincher)