Unions say they are hoping that record numbers of protestors will attend demonstrations across France this weekend as they continue to push back against the government's pension reform bill.
Tomorrow (Saturday February 11) will be the fourth day of national demonstrations against the proposed bill, which controversially includes raising the minimum pension age from 62 to 64.
Numbers for the third day of demonstrations (February 7) were slightly lower than the first and second days, with 757,000 attending nationwide protests on Tuesday according to Interior Ministry figures.
Unions are hoping that their calls for widespread demonstration will see the largest number of people yet join Saturday’s national demonstrations.
Details of where some of the protest action will be taking place and planned marches can be found here.
Protests but no strikes
As a reminder, Saturday is a day of national manifestations against the government but no strike action is being called for in the public sector.
There have, therefore, not been any union announcements that train journeys or flights will be affected tomorrow.
Action is not usually taken on weekends but February 11 is an exceptional circumstance, allowing not just public sector workers but also those in the private sector to show their opposition to the proposed reforms.
It is hoped that those in the public sector will join the demonstrations even if not striking, in a chance to protest without losing pay.
Saturday’s protest is supported by all eight major French unions, including the CGT, which does not usually condone activity over the weekend.
“We consider that demonstrations must go hand in hand with work stoppages,” says Fabrice Angei, one of the CGT's national leaders.
“But we hear the need to allow other profiles to mobilise,” he added.
Recent polls show that 65% of people in France oppose the government’s reform,
Potential ‘general strike’ in March
Unions have also called for a fifth day of strike action next week on Thursday February 16.
All eight major French unions back the call, with disruption to transport expected, although exact details will not be announced until nearer the time.
Discussions for a grève total (a general strike) on March 7 have started but as of now nothing is confirmed.
This action is more serious than what has been seen on previous strike days this year - which mostly included public sector workers - and could see France completely shut down if private sector workers join the action.
This date has been chosen because all winter school holidays in France will be finished by the weekend before, meaning strikes will not affect families returning from holidays.
The date is also politically important as on March 4 the government’s bill will be transferred to a joint committee of both MPs and Senators if not already voted for in parliament.
Anger not about retirement
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne says the government will still go ahead with the reforms despite the protests.
In an interview with La Voix du Nord, she says she is not making the policy changes “for pleasure” but because they are necessary for the country.
A lot of anger at the protests, she believes, is not caused by the proposed retirement age increase but because people “are not happy in their work”.
The topic is “sensitive” for French people, she admitted, but reaffirmed the importance of the reforms in light of France’s growing national debt.
The reforms are currently being discussed in parliament.