Unions have called for two more days of strikes to protest France’s controversial pension reforms.
They want further protests this Saturday (March 11) and another next week, likely Tuesday (March 14) or Wednesday (March 15).
It comes after Tuesday’s strike, which even by police estimates (often lower than that of trade unions) saw more than a million people hit the streets to voice their opposition to raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64.
There was also widespread travel disruption, with fewer trains and planes and blockades at ports, petrol refineries and on some roads.
Strike action and stoppages continued in some sectors today (Wednesday, March 8), including at fuel refineries and on transport services, especially trains.
France’s Transport Minister Clément Beaune told LCI that “Things will improve a bit today (March 8), but will be much better tomorrow (Thursday and Friday).”
Where is strike action continuing on Wednesday?
- Fuel refinery staff are still on strike and deliveries have stopped. But TotalEnergies has said that there is no lack of fuel at petrol stations so far, due to a high level of reserves in place.
- As much as 70-100% of workers at TotalEnergies refineries are still on strike, said Eric Sellini, at CGT-Chimie.
- Several ports have been blockaded since early on Wednesday, including Rouen, Havre, and Marseille-Fos.
- International services are disrupted, with 75% of trains running on Eurostar, two-in-three on Thalys and only a third of services running linking France with Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Spain
- Only one-in-three high-speed TGV services is running today, with two-in-five trains running on the north, east, and south-east Inoui lines
- On the Atlantic line, only one-in-four TGV trains is running
- One-in-three Ouigo trains is running
- One-in-10 cross-country TGV services is running
- Intercité trains are also disrupted, with only one-in-five services running, and only one or two trips scheduled for services from Paris-Clermont, Paris-Brive, Nantes-Bordeaux, Bordeaux-Marseille, Clermont and Béziers, Clermont and Lyon, and Toulouse and Hendaye
- No night Intercités services until Thursday, March 9
- On TER services, only one-in-three services is running throughout the country
Disruption is also expected tomorrow (March 9), and French rail operator SNCF has “recommended that travellers who can should cancel or postpone their trips”.
Anyone affected by cancelled trains will have received an email or SMS enabling them to exchange their tickets to another train for free, or get a full refund if they choose to cancel completely. This must be done before the train has left.
Read also: Train tickets for the French summer season now on sale
‘France is at a standstill, it’s working well’
Tuesday’s mobilisation marked the sixth day of strikes against the proposed pension reform.
⚡️ 3,5 millions de personnes ont manifesté en France aujourd'hui selon la CGT, 1,28 million selon la police.— Élections 202(2) (@2022Elections) March 7, 2023
Dans les deux cas, il s'agit de la plus grande mobilisation sociale depuis plus de 50 ans.#RéformeDesRetraites #GrèveDu7Mars pic.twitter.com/fpKVuOctff
Nancy.#grevedu7mars #NonALaReformeDesRetraites pic.twitter.com/wMvCwzoeKm— emma (@emmalgrnd_) March 7, 2023
Police said that numbers hit 1.28 million, while the CGT union said there were 3.5 million across France.
French firefighters showing up to the Place d'Italie in Paris while the crowd applauds. #grevedu7mars pic.twitter.com/BfV6LZ9Yyr— Dripped Out Trade Unionists (@UnionDrip) March 7, 2023
#grevedu7mars While waiting for the departure of the Parisian procession, the #TheatreDuSoleil heats up the atmosphere.#villermet_b2 #grevedu7mars #Greve7mars #GreveGeneraleIllimitee #GreveGenerale #ReformeDesRetraites #MacronLaHonte #ReformedesRetraite #BlocageDeLaFrance pic.twitter.com/vZIPcelWOo— Abdul Ahad (@OneAahad) March 7, 2023
Clashes broke out in Paris, with police storming some crowds amid reports that a number of violent ‘black bloc’ groups were taking the opportunity to vandalise some streets and throw projectiles at police.
Clashes are breaking out on the streets of Paris amidst the 6th massive national strike this year.— red. (@redstreamnet) March 7, 2023
Over 1 million people are protesting across France escalating the pressure on President Emmanuel Macron to withdraw plans that would slash workers' pension rights. #grevedu7mars pic.twitter.com/lDqrbY5aIL
Yet, Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, hailed the day as a success, calling it a “historic mobilisation”, while Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT, said: “France at a standstill, it’s working well today.”
Nevertheless, union leaders complained of a lack of response from the government. They sent a joint letter to French president Emmanuel Macron, asking for a meeting as soon as possible.
H-I-S-T-O-R-I-Q-U-E— Attac France (@attac_fr) March 7, 2023
Nous sommes 700 000 à Paris
Le message est clair, retrait de la réforme ! #64ansCestNon#grevedu7mars pic.twitter.com/WPYyIZ2V4B
D-day ✊#grevedu7mars pic.twitter.com/8YaqB8mY63— Pascaline LECORCHE (@p_lecorche) March 7, 2023
Senate debate controversy
As a day of protests drew to a close, French senators continued to debate the government’s proposals.
Discussions continued overnight until 03:30 until senators from the Socialists (PS), French Communists (PCF) and Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV) left. The debates are set to resume on Wednesday afternoon.
Article 7, which stipulates the minimum pension age should rise from 62 to 64, is arguably one of the most controversial proposals.
Read also: Age, new minimum amount: What does France’s pension reform involve?
Senators debated this proposal for hours (from 19:00 to 01:00), with some left-wingers calling for it to be suppressed.
At around 01:00, Bruno Retailleau, president of The Republicans (LR), demanded the use of article 38 of the Senate regulations, which brought a (temporary) end to the debate. This is the first time that the article has been used since its revision in 2015.
Socialist Patrick Kanner was among those to criticise this use (along with the communist and green party), saying: “Shame on you! … You have allowed yourselves to be gagged by Article 47.1 of the Constitution, [and] now you want to gag the opposition.”
EN DIRECT— BFMTV (@BFMTV) March 8, 2023
"Vous voulez bâillonner l'opposition!": Patrick Kanner critique Bruno Retailleau, qui demande le recours à l'article 38 du règlement du Sénat pour accélérer les débats sur l'article 7 de la réforme des retraiteshttps://t.co/W9tYAWvdVR pic.twitter.com/8ktQarDMzn
EELV president Guillaume Gontard, said: “On a historic day of action, on the most important article, article 7, you decide to gag Parliament and censure the Senate. This is a serious moment in the history of the Senate. It’s a political choice.”
Eliane Assassi, from the PCF, said: “Using this procedure is an act of weakness. This is an attack on democracy.”
Later, LR Senators proposed that Article 7 be rewritten. The article has been subject to more than 1,000 amendments, with debate over it suspended to allow these amendments to be studied. However, most of them were judged to be “inadmissible”.
Only 75 amendments now remain to be discussed, and the controversial article could be adopted by Tuesday evening.
France’s work minister, Olivier Dussopt, said on France Inter radio station: “We knew right from the start that this reform would be difficult, but we know how necessary it is.”
Key takeaways so far from Tuesday’s pension reform strikes in France
Lorry drivers in France called to a no-end date strike from March 5