French protests grow after Macron raises pension age
Refinery strikes escalated in France yesterday as the interior minister spoke of protesters wreaking havoc across the country and some MPs called for police protection amid growing anger at the government pushing through a rise in the pension age without a parliamentary vote.
More than 300 people were arrested across France overnight on Thursday during spontaneous protests against Emmanuel Macron’s decision to bypass parliament and force through his unpopular pensions changes, including raising the eligible age from 62 to 64.
Macron instructed the prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, to invoke article 49.3 of the constitution, which allows the government to adopt a bill without a parliamentary vote, because he said there was too much economic risk to the country if MPs voted against the bill.
As opposition politicians accused the government of a brutal and undemocratic approach, demonstrators gathered in cities such as Paris and Rennes and smaller towns such as Laval and Évreux. About 200 protesters briefly blocked traffic on the Paris ring road early on yesterday morning. In Bordeaux, dozens of protesters stood on the tracks at the main train station.
Strikers voted to halt production at one of the country’s largest refineries by Monday at the latest, a representative of the CGT union said. Workers had already been on a rolling strike at the northern site TotalEnergies de Normandie, and halting production would escalate the industrial action and spark fears of fuel shortages. Strikers continued to deliver less fuel than normal from several other sites.
A bin collectors’ strike in Paris continued as more than 10,000 tonnes of waste piled up in streets across half of the city. A further day of coordinated strike action by transport workers and teachers will take place on Thursday. Some teachers’ unions have suggested supervisors should also strike early next week when high school students begin their baccalaureate exams.
The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, warned against what he called the chaos of random, spontaneous street demonstrations. “The opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but wreaking havoc is not,” Darmanin told RTL radio. He complained of “very difficult demonstrations” and denounced the fact that effigies of Macron, Borne and other ministers were burned at a protest in Dijon. He said public buildings had been targeted.
Protesters started fires on side streets on Thursday night in Paris and caused damage to shop fronts after police used teargas and water cannon to clear hundreds of people who had gathered in the historic Place de la Concorde. By 11.30pm, 217 people had been arrested on suspicion of seeking to cause damage, Paris police said.
The head of Macron’s centrist Renaissance party in parliament, Aurore Bergé, wrote to Darmanin asking him to ensure the protection of MPs who feared violence against them. She said she would not accept MPs living in “fear of reprisals”. The interior minister replied to say police would be vigilant against any violence directed towards lawmakers.
Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 was passed by the surprise, last-minute use of a special constitutional power after two months of coordinated nationwide strikes and some of the biggest protests in decades. The government took the decision after it feared it could not secure a majority of MPs to vote in favour.
Unions immediately called for another day of mass strikes and protests for next Thursday, calling the government’s move “a complete denial of democracy”.