Teachers, railway workers and public sector employees abandoned their posts to protest a planned increase in the retirement age.
Train services, schools, flights and scores of businesses in France were disrupted on Thursday as labor unions organized mass protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age to 64, a move bitterly opposed by the French public.
The largest marches took place in Paris, where the CGT trade union estimated that 400,000 people took to the streets. The union claimed that two million protesters marched nationwide, although France’s interior ministry put the turnout at 1.2 million nationwide and 80,000 in Paris.
Amid the demonstrations, police officers clashed with black-clad anarchists, who regularly show up at protests in France to spar with police. Video footage showed armored officers using tear gas and batons on the black-clad bloc and other nearby protesters.
👮✊🇫🇷Clashes began at a demonstration in Paris, police used tear gas
Thousands of marches are thundering in Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Marseille and many other cities – according to preliminary data, from 750,000 to a 1 000 000 people take part in them. pic.twitter.com/QCzLJDvnLh
— AZ 🛰🌏🌍🌎 (@AZgeopolitics) January 19, 2023
Tensions continue in the procession against the pension reform in #Paris. Arrests in progress.
— CBKNEWS (@CBKNEWS121) January 19, 2023
Similar demonstrations were held in the cities of Nantes, Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille and Toulouse, and in more than 200 other locations across the country. France’s eight largest trade unions participated, meaning that schools, railways, airports, power plants and other vital utilities were operating at a drastically reduced capacity on Thursday.
As few as one in five high-speed TGV train lines were running, the rail operator SNCF said, while Eurostar said that several connections with the UK were canceled. More than 40% of primary school teachers didn’t show up for work, CNN reported, citing the French education ministry.
Macron’s government is urging parliament to pass a bill that would raise the retirement age for most French workers from 62 to 64, a result that would still see these workers getting their pensions three years earlier than most of their European counterparts.
While the government insists that this reform is necessary to stop the country’s pension system from sliding into deficit, the unions argue that the system should instead be buoyed by increasing taxes on the wealthy rather than by squeezing more productivity out of aging workers.
“It’s rare for French unions to all agree on something, so it demonstrates the seriousness of the issue,” CGT leader Philippe Martinez told France24 on Thursday morning.
Macron, who already tried and failed to hike the retirement age in 2019, told reporters that the reform is “just and responsible.” The public, however, disagrees. A poll taken last week found that 68% of French people are “hostile to this pension reform,” although only 51% support the unions’ campaign of protests and strikes.