French unions fail to gain new momentum in pension protests

French unions fail to gain new momentum in pension protests
  • Clock-gray 00:16
  • calendar-gray 18 December 2019

French trade unions crippled transport and shut schools on Tuesday but failed to achieve the big surge in support they had sought to increase pressure on President Emmanuel Macron to ditch a planned pension reform by Christmas, APA reports citing Reuters.

All big unions organized marches on the same day for the first time in almost two weeks of nationwide protests, with union chiefs hoping to regain faltering momentum.

But the interior ministry said only about 615,000 people nationwide answered the union leaders’ call. This was a significant decline since the first big day of action on Dec. 5, which had brought 806,000 onto the street, though 76,000 people marched in Paris, more than the 65,000 tallied on Dec. 5.

There was no immediate reaction to the fall in numbers from the union leaders, who oppose Macron’s plans to streamline the Byzantine state pension system and prod people to work until 64, instead of the legal retirement age of 62.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades at demonstrators in central Paris’s Place de la Nation. Protesters dressed in black, some with scarves and masks, overturned bins, tried to smash advertising hoardings and hurled projectiles at police lines. Police said the clashes involved “black block” anarchists, a small minority of the otherwise peaceful protesters.

Police also charged a group of protesters in Paris who ignored an ultimatum to disperse and threw Molotov cocktails at police, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

“We want social justice,” said Veronique Ragot, 55, a striking sub-editor at a publishing house. “We’ve seen our social benefits melt in the sun, and this is the last straw.”

A broadcaster showed clouds of what its reporter described as tear gas fired on protesters in the western city of Nantes.

The strike forced most long-distance trains, commuter trains and Paris metro lines to shut. Even the Eiffel Tower was closed. Many state schools were shut or had reduced lessons. Grid operator RTE blamed the strike for power outages in Lyon.

Official figures suggested the number of railway workers participating in the strike had gone up, although the number of teachers had gone down.

 

The unions and Macron are each hoping to push the other to back down before Christmas, with the prospect that strikes over the holiday would alienate an increasingly frustrated public.

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