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France protests update: When is next strike? What happened on May 1?

A round-up of the latest news regarding France’s controversial pension reforms

Was yesterday the end of action against the pension reform bill? Pic: HJBC / Shutterstock

What was the turnout for France’s May 1 marches?

  • Record numbers of protesters took to the streets to mark what is a public holiday in France, la fête du Travail
  • It is traditionally a celebration of French workers and progress made in protecting their rights
  • But this year saw unions call for protesters to show their opposition to the government’s controversial pension reforms, which will see the minimum retirement age raised from 62 to 64.
  • When it comes to documenting how many took part in such protests, there is normally a big difference between the authorities and the unions.
  • But even going by the figures of France’s interior ministry, Monday saw the second-highest May 1 turnout on record since 2002, with 782,000 taking part in the marches.
  • Unions put the number at 2.3 million, however, the highest ever recorded on their side for May 1.

What happened?

  • Marches were marred by violence from both protestors and police, especially in Paris, Lyon, and Nantes.
  • France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin said on Tuesday (May 2) that 406 police officers or gendarmes had been injured in the violence. 
  • It included one police officer who was burned in the face by a Molotov cocktail in Paris.
  • Darmanin added 61 protesters had been injured.
  • In total, there were 540 people arrested across France, including 305 in Paris.

What has been the reaction?

  • “Everyone should condemn the unacceptable violence against the police,” said Darmanin. “[There is] too much silence in front of such terrible images.”
  • “The scenes of violence [at the protests]… are unacceptable,” said Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne. “Support for our law enforcement.”
  • Left-wing politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon and many of his party’s (La France Insoumise) MPs were at the Paris protests, where he gave a speech to the procession, culminating in a chant of “down with the bad Republic”.
  • “I condemn all the violence [from yesterday] and hope Mr Darminan will do the same for injured protestors [as for injured police officers],” said left-wing MP Alexis Corbière.
  • Far-right politician Marine Le Pen said President Emmanuel Macron was “cut off from reality” and in a “permanent arm wrestling match with French citizens,” in particular over the reform. 
  • Union leaders, such as Sophie Binet of the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), France’s second-largest union, said they would continue the fight after May 1. “We know we can win,” she told reporters in Paris.

Read more: France’s CGT elects female leader, a first in union’s 128-year history

Will there be any more national strikes?

  • French unions on Tuesday (May 2) said the next national day of action would be on Tuesday, June 6. 
  • Some sectors are acting by themselves, however, including energy workers who have threatened to cut off electricity at key cultural events in May.
  • Until now and despite Tuesday’s announcement, France’s two largest unions, the moderate CFDT (Confédération française démocratique du travail) and the more radical CGT have largely been in agreement over proposed action, although this may be coming to an end.
  • Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT (although not for much longer) says he will accept the Prime Minister’s offer of a meeting next week as part of the ‘100 days of appeasement’ by the government towards French workers unhappy over the reforms.
  • For her part, Ms Binet has not yet accepted the invitation, indicating the first sign of a rupture and potential problems with inter-union action.

Read more: Updated: Dates and sectors of upcoming pension strikes in France

What happens next?

  • France’s highest constitutional authority, le Conseil constitutionnel, will rule on Wednesday (May 3) on a second request to hold a referendum on the reforms
  • A motion against raising the retirement age to 64 will be discussed and voted on in parliament on June 8
  • France’s national day on July 14 will see the end of the government’s “100 days of appeasement”.
  • The areas of reform already approved by le Conseil constitutionnel – including the increased retirement age – will come into force on September 1.

Read also

May 1: Who do French people give muguet to and does it still matter?

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