France’s pension reform strikes: Are they over now?

As turnout dwindles, protesters and union bosses appear to be in disagreement about how to oppose the government’s pension reforms

Unions say that there is still “anger and resentment” in France but not all agree that the pension strikes will continue in the same way
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France saw its 14th day of strikes against the government’s pension reforms on Tuesday (June 6), but some counts suggest support is dwindling, despite union bosses’ calls to continue. Is this the end?

Union CGT said 900,000 people turned out across the country yesterday, including 300,000 in Paris; yet, the Interior Ministry count (which is always lower) estimated that there were 31,000 protesters in the capital and 281,000 nationwide.

This compares to CGT estimates of 2.3 million protesters on May 1 (782,000 according to police and government figures).

Is this the end?

The head of the CFDT, Laurent Berger, is one of the highest-profile figures to have suggested that the protests are over.

He told FranceInfo that “the match is ending” and that “this will be the last demonstration against the retirement reforms, in this format”.

He appears convinced the movement will not continue in the same way (via strikes and marches), saying: “This movement [today] won’t go down in history.

“We will continue to contest the reform but it will take another form. There is still anger and resentment.”

He added that marches are not the only way to protest, and that other means of protest are likely to be used now. He also announced that he will be stepping down from the CFDT, saying: “As secretary general, yes, it’s my last march.”

So will protests continue?

Some union bosses and leaders say they are not ready to drop their movement and that action will continue.

Leader of the far-left La France Insoumise party, Jean-Luc Mélénchon, pledged the “fight will continue”, while secretary general of the CGT, Sophie Binet, said: “Nothing will be the same if they decide to maintain this reform.”

Ms Binet smiled ruefully at journalists’ questions about whether the protest would be the last, saying: “At every demonstration, you ask me the same question. It’s still likely that there will be other protests.”

She did not, however, specify that future strikes would focus on pensions, adding that she wanted to “talk about other subjects” like inequality between men and women, working conditions, and fiscal fraud.

One protester, who has been at every movement in Paris so far, told FranceInfo: “People are going to die while working. That’s unacceptable. One way or another this fight will continue.”

What is next?

That is still relatively unclear. Mr Mélénchon has admitted that he is not sure “under which form” the movement will persist (although he has said it will definitely continue).

A protester with the FO said that he was not standing down, but was waiting for the forthcoming decision from the cross-union meeting on June 8 (tomorrow, on the question of the minimum retirement age), before deciding what the future of the movement will look like.

Unions involved in the protests are set to hold a conference to discuss the future on June 13.

Ms Binet at the CGT criticised the government’s method of inviting dialogue so far. She told Le Parisien that the prime minister’s method of receiving union bosses separately was “a classic strategy of division”.

Mr Berger said that he believed the next step in the movement would be more involvement and a response from the government.

He said: “It would be unacceptable if this legal proposition were not examined by parliament.”

So far the government has declined to re-examine the text, which was controversially passed by article 49.3 in March.

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