Key takeaways so far from Tuesday’s pension reform strikes in France

Petrol refineries blocked, flights and trains cancelled and talk of a ‘historic mobilisation’… what do we know about today’s pension strikes?

A photo of a protest against the pension reforms in January
Today’s strike has been hailed as ‘historic’, with more than 250 protests planned across the country, as union leaders expect more than a million people (at least) to take part
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[This article has been updated since it was first published on the afternoon of March 7. It has new updates, clearly marked, which were correct as of March 7, 20:45.]

France faced major strike action today (March 7) with workers from key transport sectors and others taking part in the sixth day of protests at the government’s proposed pension reforms.

What do we know about the scale of the action today?

The action appears widespread. CGT head Philippe Martinez told FranceInfo that he was expecting as many as 1.4 million protesters across the country.

[UPDATE, March 7, 20:45 - The CGT has said that 3.5 million people came out to protest today, while the Interior Ministry has put the figure at 1.28 million. The CGT's figure represents 1 million more protesters than the movement's previous record day of January 31.

Police in Paris said that 80,000 people marched in the capital, while the CGT said that there were 700,000 protesters in the city (police and union figures often vary wildly, as they use different counting measures).

By midday, 2.5 million public service workers were on strike, equating to 24.4% of the workforce, compared to just 5% for the strike of February 16.]

Figures from the CFDT and SNES suggest that there are more than 260 protests taking place.

Image: / CFDT / SNES

The head of union CFDT, Laurent Berger, hailed the day as a “historic mobilisation” that has been “better than January 31…with many more people in the marches”.

He said that there were at least 20% more protesters taking part today compared to the strike day of January 31, which saw at least 1.27 million people take part (according to the government; organisers say that 2.5 million people were involved).

President of the CFE-CGC union, François Hommeril, told political channel Public Sénat this morning that the symbolic “threshold of one million [protesters] would be breached”.

We also know that:

  • Marseille: The CGT has estimated that 245,000 people were present (the police say there were 30,000).
  • Bordeaux: Unions were hoping to attract more than 50,000 people, which (they say) would beat the figure seen on February 7 (although the prefecture put the number at a much lower 9,500). [UPDATE, March 7, 20:45 - Unions say that there were 100,000 people in Bordeaux, although the Gironde prefecture puts the figure at 15,600.]
  • Rennes: Clashes broke out last night between protesters and police after some allegedly blocked a major road, the RN24.
  • Paris: Representatives from more than 400 lycées are taking part in the action, said la Fédération Indépendante et Démocratique Lycéenne (FIDL), with 250 sites completely blockaded
  • Calais: 6,000 protesters were counted this morning as protest marches began, more than the 5,000 counted by unions on January 19 and 31.
  • Nantes: Unions said they were hoping for more than 70,000 people, which would (they say) surpass the numbers seen in the city on February 11.
  • Valenciennes: Several thousand protesters took to the streets.

Read more: How do you know how many people really attend a protest in France?

[UPDATE, March 7, 20:45 - 22 people had been arrested as part of the Paris protests, and others were being dispersed by police at around 18:30 at Place d'Italie. One CGT protester is also reportedly in a "serious condition" with a head injury after falling from a statue during a protest in Saint-Etienne.]

Of the industries to have publicly announced involvement, TotalEnergies said – of those scheduled to work on March 7 – 64% were on strike, equating to 190 people of the 296 staff on duty.

The Normandy refinery, which is the biggest in France, said that 75% of workers were on strike this morning.

The FO union said that 100% of workers were on strike at the TotalEnergies depot in Madryck, near Dunkirk. Up to 90% of workers are off at the bio-refinery in La Mède (Bouches-du-Rhône).

[UPDATE, March 7, 20:45 - EDF management said that 47.65% of its workers were on strike on March 7. It said that the drop in power available as a result of the work stoppage had hit 5,300 megawatts (MW) for hydroelectric power, and 9,900 MW across the nuclear network. No power cuts occurred as result, despite predictions that some may happen, CGT-Energie said.

However, power cuts were reported in some neighbourhoods in Annonay (Ardèche), which Public Function Minister Stanislas Guerini told RTL was "disgusting". He said: "We must distinguish between the right to protest, and cutting off people's power. I will say that again as strongly as possible."]

Fuel and roads: What do we know about blockages or fuel shortages?

Workers are blockading fuel refineries today, including those under the brands TotalEnergies, Esso-ExxonMobil, and Petroineos.

Continued strikes could cause fuel shortages at petrol stations – although there is no suggestion that there are any shortages (or risk of them) currently.

Read more: Could strikes at French refineries cause petrol shortages at the pump?

Refineries are continuing to produce fuel, and shortages would only begin to occur after several days or weeks of stoppages, as reserves at France’s 10,000 petrol stations are still high.

The last time there were prolonged fuel refinery strikes, in October 2022, petrol shortages did begin to bite, pushing the government to requisition striking staff to open up stocks to enable deliveries of petrol and diesel.

However, Frédéric Plan, general delegate at fuel group la Fédération Française des Combustibles et Carburants, which represents around 1,000 petrol stations, said that the current situation is “not really comparable” to October.

He added that there are “no tensions” at the pumps today, and that petrol stations are better prepared now, with “strategic” use of stocks.

He told FranceInfo: “What happened at the time was a domino effect on logistics, accentuated by a fear of motorists who overfilled their tanks."

Supplier TotalEnergies said: “We confirm that there is no lack of fuel at our petrol stations. Stocks are at a high level.”

The website has a search engine through which you can search for the latest petrol updates and stock levels at petrol stations near you, while the government also has an interactive, searchable map that shows petrol stations and sale points.

You can also check petrol station supply levels and prices by using the app.

Trains, planes, and ports: How bad is the travel disruption?

[UPDATE, March 7, 20:45 - The RATP has said that bus and RER services will be mainly back to normal by March 8, but Metro service will continue to be disrupted as the movement continues. SNCF traffic will continue to be disrupted tomorrow, although it will be slightly better than today.]

Workers in key transport sectors are among the main strikers today, with disruption having been expected on the trains, ferry services, and airports.

Read more: Trains, planes, ports and roads: How Tuesday’s strike will affect you

At Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle alone this morning, around 400 people and vehicles took part in a march, with a view to ending in front of the terminal buildings to show their opposition to the pension reforms. However they did say that they had no intention of blocking public access to the airport.

Services between the UK and France have been disrupted too.

  • Eurostar: 16 of the 26 scheduled services were cancelled between London and Paris, as were six others between London and Brussels
  • Ferries: Delays were posted on many services between major ports, including on P&O Ferries services between Dover and Calais. P&O has recommended that passengers postpone their journeys if possible.
  • Airlines: EasyJet cancelled at least 18 flights between the UK and France.
  • Metro and buses: The RATP has warned of very disrupted traffic, including on metro and RER lines. Traffic on buses and trams will be almost normal, however, although some disruption may occur.

The AFP said that at midday, 39% of SNCF workers were on strike. This is less than the figure from January 19, which put the percentage of strikers at 46.3%, but more than January 31, which put it at 36.5%. Among drivers 76% are striking, alongside 55% of conductors.

What they said: Key quotes from the main actors in the dispute

Several high-profile union figures have been speaking across media outlets to mark their opposition to the plans.

  • Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT, today called on young people to take part in the action, saying that their views will be “decisive” in the future. He told FranceInfo this morning that young people should “join the marches”, because “it’s their future that is at stake”.
    He added: "No one can say that we didn’t warn them that we would go a step further if we did not get a better hearing from the government and the President.”
  • Laurent Berger, head of union CFDT, has hailed the day as a “historic mobilisation”.
  • Jean-Luc Mélénchon, left-wing political leader, said that “the battle is beginning today”. He said: “This is a huge iron fist from the people towards one person: the president.” He said that Emmanuel Macron was “directly and personally responsible for this situation”, and added that today “has been a historic event in our country, with a social movement on a scale not seen for 30 or 40 years”.
  • Boris Vallaud, socialist MP, said in an open letter addressed to Mr Macron and published in Libération, that the proposed pension reforms “threaten democracy”. He wrote: “You are imposing this reform in the midst of a five-year-long social crisis (including the Gilets jaunes action and the Ukraine war).
    “Can’t you see it? The country is suffering, and the evil that is eating away at it is injustice. The movement in the streets is massive. And, whatever the cost to democracy, you ignore it, you remain deaf, and insensitive.”
  • Eric Sellini, at CGT-Chimie, told Libération that the union was aiming to “bring the French economy to its knees”, while the secretary general, Emmanuel Lépine, said that “the aim is to block the entire economy, particularly through strikes….in fuel production, distribution, and imports”.
  • However, Mr Berger, from the CFDT, denied the idea of “bringing the economy to its knees”, as he said that doing so would threaten workers’ jobs. Instead, he said: “It’s always been clear for us. What we want is a huge day of movement today. As for other initiatives, we’ll decide it tonight at the cross-union meeting.”
  • Manuel Bompard, MP of opposition party La France Insoumise, invoked the same metaphor. He said: “No-one wants to bring France to its knees [but] the government is not listening.”
  • [UPDATE, March 7, 20:45 - LFI MP Manuel Bompard told the Prime Minister this afternoon: "We are experiencing the biggest day of action in 50 years. You're ignoring [it]...and banking on the French people giving up."

Action continues, with unions set to meet tonight to discuss the possibility of future action. Several unions have already called for ‘renewable’ strikes and for protests to continue.

[UPDATE, March 7, 20:45 - During their cross-union press conference, unions stated: "The silence of the president [Macron] is no longer possible." They said they had sent him a letter, "asking to be seen urgently". The unions have also called for a new day of strikes on Saturday, March 11, as well as another day next week.]

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