Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

200 Arrests at French Labor Day Clashes Over Pension Reform Plans

Victor Westerkamp
Victor resides in the Netherlands and writes about freedom and governmental and social changes to the democratic form of nations.
Published: May 2, 2023
Demonstrators return tear gas grenades as they clash with police during the traditional May Day labor march, a day of mobilization against the French pension reform law and for social justice, in Nantes, France, May 1, 2023.(Image: STEPHANE MAHÉ/Reuters)

French police clashed with large crowds of demonstrators during union protests against raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, as proposed by the Macron government. 

The demonstrations took place on the occasion of the commemoration of International Labor Day, May 1. They were the culmination of long-running protests weeks long against the proposed increase in the retirement age. 

Riots broke out in Paris and several other cities around the country, such as Nantes, and Lyon, with protesters setting fire to vehicles and vandalizing bus stops. 

In some areas, demonstrators pelted French police with Molotov cocktails and fireworks. Then, police were “booed” as they responded with tear gas. Parties were also bombarded back and forth with Molotov cocktails and tear gas grenades. 

Police say nearly 200 people were arrested, while the Interior Ministry said the turnout was about 782,000 demonstrators nationwide. 

Article 49:3

Earlier this year, the retirement age was pushed through in the final stages of preparation without the consent of the French House of Commons by invoking Article 49:3 of the French Constitution. 

Use of Article 49:3 provides a minister with the ability to pass a law through parliament without first putting it to a vote and was applied only in very rare cases and then only in the case of less controversial matters.

The president’s popularity has fallen to an all-time low. Macron is generally seen as aloof and indifferent to the daily problems facing ordinary French people. 


The riots were the most serious since the so-called jaunes gilets (yellow vests) protests of 2018 and 2019. 

Unions had called for a large turnout because they wanted to force a reversal on the Macron government. The majority of the population is against the pension plans, and politicians are also sharply divided. People simply do not feel heard and are taking action.

“They (the government) are trying to change the subject quite quickly, but let’s say it’s not working. So much the better!” said sculptor Antoine Eveillo.

Also, according to Sophie Binet, leader of the leftist union CGT, the executive cannot govern without the support of the people. 

Binet said CGT has not yet decided whether they will participate in talks with the government where other labor-related, such as salaries, working conditions, and unemployment benefits, will be debated. 

In any case, the moderate union CFDT led by Laurent Berger did decide to participate in the negotiations. Berger also stressed that whether or not it participated in the consultations should not lead to a rift in the union alliance. 

Other countries

Major unions elsewhere in Europe also used the occasion of May 1 to call attention to what they say are deteriorating working conditions.

In the Italian city of Potenza, the three main Italian unions demonstrated against a package of labor measures approved by Prime Minister Meloni’s populist government. 

Also, In Zurich, Switzerland, protesters threw water balloons at police and strafed them with various projectiles. 

Macron says the pension reforms are necessary to curb some of the current generous pension systems so that it remains possible to pay people in the future. 

Benefits and conditions are higher and more flexible in France and are paid out earlier than those in other OECD countries.

Another proposed measure on working conditions that is heavily controversial is the government’s proposal to force people on minimum benefits to work 15 to 20 hours a week or attend training. 

Fierce protests are expected here as well, and it will be another tough job for the government and all the police officers to be called up to rein in the angry protesters in the coming months.

Reuters contributed to this article