Union activists barged into the Paris headquarters of luxury goods company LVMH on Thursday, saying the French government should shelve plans to make people work longer for their pension and tax the rich more instead.
In a 12th day of nationwide protests since mid-January, striking workers also disrupted garbage collections in Paris and blocked river traffic on part of the Rhine in eastern France.
“You’re looking for money to finance pensions? Take it from the pockets of billionaires,” said Sud Rail union leader Fabien Villedieu, as the LVMH headquarters filled with red smoke from flares. The protesters then left peacefully.
Trade unions urged a show of force on the streets a day before the Constitutional Council’s ruling on the legality of the bill that will raise the state pension age by two years to 64.
Across France, 380,000 demonstrators took part in Thursday’s protest, according to figures from the government. That number included 42,000 at the Paris demonstration.
Those figures were down from April 6, when 570,000 demonstrated across France, with 57,000 at last week’s Paris protest.
There were some clashes during Thursday’s rallies, including skirmishes in central Paris, with black-clad protesters throwing projectiles at police who responded with teargas, but this was nowhere near the level of violence seen at some protests last month.
Ten members of the police force were injured on Thursday, said the police department.
If the Council gives its approval, possibly with some caveats, the government will be entitled to promulgate the law, and will hope this will eventually put an end to protests, which have coalesced widespread anger against President Emmanuel Macron.
But protesters said they would keep up the fight if the Council gave a green light.
“We don’t want to work until 64,” 50-year-old teacher Kathy Brochard said at the Paris rally.
‘WE WON’T GIVE UP’
Protesters want the bill withdrawn – or put to a referendum.
“We still hope that, at some point, someone in high places will decide to abandon this law, sit around a table and look at pension funding differently,” 52-year-old postal service worker Francis Bourget said at the Paris rally.
The industrial action has lost some steam and the protests have rallied smaller crowds in recent weeks compared with turnouts of more than a million seen earlier in the movement.
But unions remained defiant.
“This is certainly not the last day of the strike,” Sophie Binet, the new leader of the hard-left CGT union, said at the blockade of an incinerator outside Paris.
Macron and his government argue the new law is needed to ensure that France’s generous pension system does not go bust.
Unions say this can be done by other means.
Macron has said he will organise a meeting with unions after the Council’s decision to work on other proposals – an initiative union leaders say will be short-lived if he is not ready to discuss withdrawing the pension legislation.
“After three months of mobilisation, I would lie if I told you that there is no fatigue. We are tired, but a mobilisation is like a marathon,” Sud Rail’s Villedieu said. “We won’t give up.”
Political observers say the widespread discontent over the government’s reform could have longer-term repercussions, including a possible boost for the far right.
“I’m not that optimistic about the Constitutional Council’s decision,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who opposes the pension legislation, told BFM TV. “But what do you want me to do? Burn cars? We’ll just tell the French: Vote for the National Rally.”
On the Rhine River, cargo traffic was disrupted after workers cut power at a waterway lock near the border with Germany and Switzerland, a union official told Reuters.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters