‘Nationwide protests against the government of Emanuel Macron entered their seventh continuous week today in France, as between 187,000 (a government estimate) and 250,000 people (the unions’ count) took to the streets to oppose Macron’s plans to radically alter the country’s pension plan, seen by many as the crown jewel in France’s substantial welfare state.
Led by transport unions, mass protests occurred yesterday across the country, including in Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Nantes, Dijon and Angers. Meanwhile, in Nice, there was a party atmosphere as activists organized a torchlight evening demonstration. Despite the light-hearted tone some of the protests took, they now constitute the longest and most intense actions against the government since the famous May 1968 “revolution,” an event that continues to define French society.
For weeks, transport unions have blocked the capital’s arteries, with the large majority of Paris’ famous metro lines closed or virtually unusable, an action that government-owned train operator SNCF estimates has cost them around €700 million (~775 million U.S. Dollars). Likewise, suburban and national services have been canceled, with many people’s Christmas and New Year plans affected.
Transport unions are the most organized and committed resistance to Macron’s agenda and have shut down many of France’s port cities, including Calais, Dunkirk, Le Havre, La Rochelle and Marseille, calling for “dead ports” over the weekend. Yet as the strike continues into its seventh week, its intensity has waned, with many strikers forced to go back to work after their funds ran dry. Another reason some have returned to work is Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s announcement that he would “temporarily” suspend the controversial “pivot age” that would see the de facto retirement age rise from 62 to 67. Nevertheless, Philippe has also said that the transport chaos “has gone on for too long,” as the government attempts to divide and conquer the workers.’