French unions and major political figures are calling for a fourth day of protests this Saturday (February 11) but this is not expected to include any actual strike action.
The unions also announced a fifth day of strike action for public sector workers on Thursday, February 16. France’s main eight unions have said they will support it.
The call comes after nationwide protests and strikes on February 7 with 757,000 attending according to Interior Ministry figures although one of France’s major unions, the CGT, claims the figure was closer to two million.
This is less than the 1.2 million reported by the Interior Ministry to have attended protests on January 31
The protests are over the government’s new pension reform bill, which will controversially increase the minimum pension age from 62 to 64.
Action on Saturday, however, will not be labelled as a “strike”, as nobody will be downing tools or walking out of their workplaces.
Key public sector workers, including those at the SNCF, have confirmed that they will not strike.
Instead, it is a national day of manifestations – protests and demonstrations – so the wider French population can show their opposition to the proposed reforms.
Why is the protest being held on Saturday?
Protests are taking place on Saturday instead of a weekday to allow people who cannot usually join weekday strike action to attend.
Notably, this means workers in the private sector who may not belong to a union can join in.
Holding protests on Saturday is an unorthodox measure as strike action is usually conducted during the week, as the majority of public sector workers are working during this time.
Unions hope, however, that the Saturday demonstrations will have more attendees than the first three days of action, which were held on weekdays, and will force the government to reconsider its reforms.
The leader of the French Parliament’s left-wing alliance, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, says that the protest will be able to demonstrate the wider opposition that exists, outside of just union opposition.
“French people who do not want this pension reform must be in the street [on Saturday]” he said.
A poll conducted for RTL on February 6* shows that 65% of people polled oppose the reforms and 72% support protest and strike action in opposition.
School holidays unaffected
The decision to not strike is also being taken with consideration of family holiday plans, many of which will start over the weekend.
Holidays for schoolchildren in Zone B (cities including Aix-Marseille, Lille, Nice, and Strasbourg among others) start on Monday February 11, and many families will travel over the weekend before the first holiday date.
Union leaders do not want to antagonise families holidaying at this time, concerned that it will chip away at public support, which currently favours them.
Seasonal ski resort workers, such as first aid / slope security workers, have been joining in protest action, however, so there may still be some disruption for holidaymakers, depending on when the next weekday strike is called.
The current protests have seen extensive agreement between all major French unions, who do not always see eye to eye.
The CGT usually does not condone weekend action, as they do not like to call for strikes falling outside of the typical working week for members. This time however, they have supported Saturday’s action.
This gesture from the CGT comes after the CFDT, another French union normally seen as less radical, supported strike action by CGT rail workers on both February 7 and 8, although February 8 was not labelled as an official cross-union “strike day”.
Saturday’s protests will show “that there is real discontent and real mobilisation” against the government, said Laurent Berger, General Secretary of the CFDT.
Government still standing strong
The reform bill, which has begun to be debated by MPs this week, is seen as vital by the government, which claims it will prevent national debt from spiralling.
This debt is in part caused by the increasing number of people living longer, causing higher pension expenses for successive governments in France.
President Macron still has faith that the government will pass the reform despite the protests.
He gave Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt his “total support” on February 8, after the bill faced a flurry of questions and resistance in the ongoing parliamentary debate.
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne announced this week that some changes to the reform bill had been made, mainly for workers who begin to retire earlier, in an attempt to gain support from other party MPs so it can be passed.
*Poll by Harris Interactive conducted online between February 3-6, involving 1,018 French people over the age of 18.