Record numbers demonstrate against French pension reform plan

People participate in a demonstration against the government's pension reform plan in Paris, France, on March 7, 2023. Some 1.28 million people protested across France on Tuesday against the government's pension reform plan, the French Ministry of the Interior said. (Photo by Glenn Gervot/Xinhua)

Some 1.28 million people protested across France on Tuesday against the government’s pension reform plan, the French Ministry of the Interior said. This represented a record number since the nationwide mobilization began.

However, according to France’s largest union the General Confederation of Labor (CGT in French), the estimated number of people marching nationally against the reforms stood much higher: at 3.5 million.

On Tuesday, the French national railway company SNCF only ran one in five high-speed trains, with other train services also heavily disrupted.

In the Greater Paris region, only one in three trains were running on most metro lines during morning and evening peak hours.

Fuel shipments were also suspended in all refineries across France on Tuesday, but fuel suppliers said there would not be a severe impact on service stations.

“The strike started everywhere … with shipments blocked at the exits of all the refineries this morning,” the French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, about half of the employees at French electric giant EDF downed tools on Tuesday in solidarity with the protests, the company’s management said Tuesday evening.

The CGT’s energy and mine sector said that some 80,000 people working in the energy and gas industries went on strike on Tuesday.

All public service sectors have already announced an extension of the strikes on Wednesday.

Major French unions held an emergency meeting in Paris Tuesday evening, where they agreed on two fresh demonstrations on March 11 and 15.

They also requested a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. “Six huge mobilizations have received no response, it cannot go on,” the unions said.

During questioning of French labor minister Olivier Dussopt in the National Assembly on Tuesday, he defended the government’s pension reform plan as “necessary.”

The French pension system is “heavily and structurally” in debt, he said, and the deficit could reach as much as 13.5 billion euros (14.2 billion U.S. dollars) by 2030.

Therefore, a reform that requires people to work two extra years is necessary to preserve the whole French pension system, he said.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne laid out details of the pension reform plan in January, under which the legal retirement age will be progressively raised by three months a year from 62 to 64 by 2030, and a guaranteed minimum pension will be introduced.

Under the plan, as from 2027 at least 43 years of work would be required to be eligible for a full pension. ■

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