On Thursday, Feb. 16, thousands of protesters from a wide range of professions rallied through Paris to oppose the hotly debated pension reform proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Demonstrators in the French capital held up signs and chanted slogans slamming the government’s drive to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.
“It’s unacceptable, right now, they’re pulling too hard on the strings, If I may say so,” retired protester Alain Fontaine told interviewers with Reuters present at the Paris rally.
“They’re going too far; it (the retirement age) was at 60, then 62, and now at 64, with 43 years paying social contributions, meaning that the majority of people won’t even be able to retire at 64 and they will have to wait even longer,” Fontaine continued.
“All that considering that we’re in a rich country, we’re making more and more wealth, but there is less and less public money. At one point, we’ll have to ask ourselves the question: ‘Why? Where did it go?'”
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As their fifth day of protests against the reforms arrived only two days before the winter school holidays that may halt their momentum, unions were in a race against time to keep pressure on the government.
The unions hope to hold out to sustain momentum until March 7, when they have vowed to “bring the country to a standstill” if Macron doesn’t abandon his reform measure, which is presently being discussed in parliament.
They have so far been successful in mobilizing bigger and more diverse crowds to protest on the streets, especially in small and mid-sized cities across France, with a demonstration on Jan. 31 attracting 1.27 million people.
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“We hope they (government) would step back, we’re mobilizing, and we’ll step it up in the coming days of strikes, Samuel Berthelot, Secretary General of the UNSLA la Poste trade union, told the press agency.
“On March 7, we’re preparing for a more massive day of strikes, which could also last for a long time since we now have to show that we really don’t want this, and especially the people don’t want it, since a huge part of the population oppose pushing up the retirement age,” Berthelot added.
A student who only identified herself by her first name, Irina, said: “This pension reform has a wider range of effects than we can realize, and I think the youth are more and more mobilized to fight against all of this.”
Indeed many youngsters were involved in the protest rallies, as Irina also noted. “It also gives us hope to see so many big demonstrations, to see the hope of rolling strikes,” she continued.
“We, the youth, are behind workers,” Irina said firmly. “We want to encourage them to take advantage of these strikes and this movement to try to change things, the system in general, but even simply the withdrawal of the reform.”
Yet, as workers began to feel the pain of decreased pay for each strike day, the number of people quitting their jobs began to wane.
The system is about to collapse, according to Macron
Macron is pushing for the reform, which he has said is vital to avoid the collapse of the creaking state pension system.
Before sending the bill to the Senate, which is controlled by the right, the administration lacks an absolute majority and must gain the support of several dozen members of the Les Republicains party in the lower house.
This month, Elisabeth Borne, the prime minister, said that the government would extend favorable treatment to those who began working exceptionally early in life. This was a crucial stipulation that conservatives attached to their support.
Government officials acknowledge that the concessions to the conservative right have cost hundreds of millions of euros, leaving little space for budgetary maneuver in France’s already tight budget.
Reuters contributed to this report.