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France in a second round of coordinated industrial action to protest pension plan

Protesters waved flares during a rally against the government’s pension plan in Marseille, in the south of France. PHOTO: NICOLAS TUCAT/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

A record number of people have taken part in nationwide demonstrations across France in a second round of coordinated industrial action against French president Emmanuel Macron's unpopular plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

According to French labour unions more than 2.5 million people marched across the country, refinery deliveries, public transport and schools were disrupted by the strikes. The leading CGT union said that half a million people were protesting in the Capitol Paris alone.

In Paris and in the city of Rennes, police clashed with protesters and use tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. The authorities had mobilized some 11,000 police officers with 4000 deployed in Paris.

At the Paris protest the mayor of the city, Anne Hidalgo, accused the government of shamefaced lies for arguing that the pension change was necessary. Prior to the nationwide demonstrations and strikes President Macron had described the reform as essential.

The French government argues that the changes are crucial to guarantee the future financing of the pension system, which is forecast to slip into deficit in the next few years.

I am not against the reform but not this one because it is unequal, unequal against the workers. We always hit the same ones when there are other solutions that the government did not wish to consider.

Demonstrator 01

But political opponents and trade unions argue that this system is now balanced. They are counting on the protests to strengthen their efforts to kill the bill after Macron lost his working majority in the parliament. Protesters say they would keep hitting the streets until the government backs down on the plan.

We have reached the stage where I wonder if they realize it's already been four years since the yellow vests have been in the street. It's been four years since we say that we already have the slap and here the government continues to encroach on the wallets of the French. I see that there are people, so it's nice, but they really have to realize that we are fed up, really fed up, we won't stop anyway.

Demonstrator 02

The government of France has so far remained resolute and insisted that the changes will go ahead, but at the end of the second round of nationwide protests, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the reform raises questions and doubts.

he number of demonstrators in the second round of anti reform protests in France has increased compared to the first round on January 19. That has put more pressure on the government, which is struggling to convince voters of the need for a pension overhaul that includes raising legal retirement age from 62 to 64.

Ladies and gentleman of the government, you are wearing people down, you are using everything we had in our reserves, and now, there is no more reserve. There is nothing left and when the people have nothing left that's where the anger is the strongest you are taking away our bread.

Demonstrator 03

Many of the street demonstrations across France included women of all ages protesting against inequalities in the pension system. Mothers who interrupted their careers to look after their children say the government's promises to improve conditions for them have failed to offset the perception of a reform that hurts the vulnerable most.

While Macron insists on the cost cutting advantages of the bill, his opponents have succeeded in framing the debate in much larger terms, focusing on the question of how wealth is distributed under Macron and whether the poorest will carry the burden of his proposal.

Opponents of the reform say the plan is both regressive, in terms of quality of life, and economically unfair.

Opinion polls show a substantial majority of the French oppose the reform with two thirds of the French now opposing the plan, calling it unnecessary and unfair. This figure has risen steadily in recent weeks.

There are also more demonstrations planned for the coming weeks, showing that many protesters see the reform as a standoff over the future of work.

While there have been clashes between police and protesters in recent demonstrations, it seems that President Macron is pushing ahead with his plans despite the high risk of civil unrest.

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