Pension protests France: new strike day set after million plus march

Further action announced as both sides remain firm on their position

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Unions in France have called for another day of strikes against pension reform as organisers claim more than two million took to the streets during yesterday’s action (January 19).

As is usually the case, the Interior Ministry cites lower figures, estimating that there were 1.12 million participants nationwide.

Read more: Age, new minimum amount: What does France’s pension reform involve?

A union statement told the press: “This reform is unacceptable and goes against the interests of the population. Our message is very clear. The government must go back on its proposal.”

The general secretary of rail workers' union CGT-Cheminots was among those to confirm a new day of strikes having been set as Tuesday, January 31.

This has been confirmed by all the largest unions.

However, several, including CGT-Cheminots, have said that action against the reforms will not be limited to that day alone, with the unions calling jointly for the "multiplication of actions and initiatives all across France, in businesses and services, including by strikes," according to Murielle Guilbert, co-general delegate of SUD Solidaires.

She said action was especially expected "around January 23", ie. next Monday, when the pension reform bill will be presented to the Conseil des ministres, the first stage of its progress through parliament.

"All next week there will be action, starting on January 23," said FO general secretary Frédéric Souillot on BFMTV.

Meanwhile, the CGT branch for energy workers stated they viewed yesterday as just the start of further potential strikes and its branch for oil refinery workers announced a new strike for Thursday and Friday next week (January 26-27). Branches for workers in ports, and chemicals also stated their wish to continue protests beyond yesterday.

On top of this, bakers will be out protesting on Monday against the rise in the price of energy and ingredients.

It comes after more than 200 protests were held across the country yesterday. Figures from authorities (which are always smaller than the figures given by organisers) say that there were:

  • Paris: 80,000 people
  • Toulouse: 36,000
  • Nantes: 25,000
  • Clermont-Ferrand: 19,000
  • Rennes: 17,000 people

In contrast, union CGT said that there were 400,000 people in the capital.

Even the lower Interior Ministry figure of 1.12 million participants would mark a new record, compared to the 1.08 million counted in protests for purchasing power in 2009, and the one million counted during the pension reform protests of 2003.

Most protests were peaceful but there were some clashes with law enforcement. Ten thousand police and gendarmes had been called to work. By the end of the day, 44 people had been arrested for possession of illegal weapons, for ‘outrage and rebellion’, and for throwing projectiles at police. There were 17 arrests in Lyon.

President Emmanuel Macron responded to the movement yesterday, saying: “It is right and legitimate that all opinions can be expressed.”

However, he said he stood behind his reform plan with “determination”, which he said had been “democratically validated” during the presidential election.

The government says pension reform is vital to ensure the system does not go bust. Pushing back the retirement age by two years from 62 to 64 and extending the contribution period would bring an additional €17.7billion in annual pension contributions by 2030, according to the Economy Ministry, allowing it to balance the books.

Unions argue that there are other ways to finance pensions, such as raising taxes on the super-rich or increasing employers' contributions or those of well-off pensioners.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who announced the reform plans last week, said: “We’re continuing to debate and convince.” She noted the “good conditions” of the protests, and said that “allowing opinions to be expressed is essential for democracy”.

Work Minister Olivier Dussopt said that it was “normal” and expected that reform of pensions would cause “worries” and that the government would “respond”.

Despite the call for a second day of strikes and protests, some experts said yesterday they did not believe there would be many successive days of action.

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