Pensions in France: after adoption, the street keeps up the pressure

Thousands of protesters take to the streets of Paris on January 19, 2023. AP - Lewis Joly

Text by: RFI Follow

6 min

The France faces Thursday a new day of national mobilization at the call of the inter-union against the pension reform, in a social climate that has further deteriorated since the adoption in Parliament of the bill via the controversial use of article 49.3. In recent evenings, many unauthorized gatherings and blockades have taken place throughout France, sometimes calm, often tense.


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The day after an Elysian intervention

The French are called Thursday to a ninth day of mobilization against a very unpopular pension reform and adopted Monday, March 20 using the constitutional tool 49.3 and after the rejection of two motions of censure, including a transpartisan one. Angered by this forced passage of the government in the National Assembly, opponents of the reform are called by the unions to take to the streets and strike, for the ninth time since January 19.

Immediately after the adoption of the law, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, on the one hand, the parliamentary oppositions on theirs, seized the Constitutional Council. The Wise Men will have to decide on the conformity of the text vis-à-vis the fundamental law of the Fifth Republic, and have the power to validate or censor it, all or part. "The Wise Men have one month to decide, until April 21," according to constitutionalist Anne-Charlène Bezzina, lecturer at the University of Rouen, interviewed by AFP. But the decision could come earlier.

And for this specialist, partial censorship of the text is "likely". "The government has chosen as a legislative vehicle to pass its reform a bill on the amending financing of the social security budget (PLFRSS). And several voices, including that of the president of the Constitutional Council Laurent Fabius, have already warned about the risk of "budgetary rider" that threatens all provisions outside the financial field.


Yesterday noon, a much-anticipated televised address by President Emmanuel Macron sent the opposition and trade unions soaring, after several weeks of growing social tensions. The head of state hammered that this reform - flagship project of his second five-year term - should be applied "before the end of the year", assuming his "unpopularity". "This reform is not a pleasure, it is not a luxury, it is a necessity," he said, invoking the defense of the "general interest" in the face of the financial deterioration of pension funds and the aging of the population.

Read also: Pensions: Emmanuel Macron ready to "endorse unpopularity", renews his confidence in Elisabeth Borne

Emmanuel Macron confirmed that he would neither dissolve the National Assembly, nor reshuffle the government, nor call a referendum on his decried reform. He was also not moved by the reproaches on his passage in force - the executive used a constitutional provision, article 49.3, allowing the adoption of a text without a vote - because he did not have a majority in the Assembly to vote for the text, exacerbating popular anger.

Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday he wanted to "re-engage" a dialogue with the social partners on the relationship to work. But "you have to wait a few days, a few weeks," he observed.

Many analysts believe that this reform and the contestation it has led to will leave an indelible mark on Emmanuel Macron's second five-year term.

The France is one of the European countries with the lowest statutory retirement age, without pension systems being completely comparable. Opponents of this reform - a majority of French according to polls - of pensions consider it "unfair", especially for women and employees with arduous jobs.

[Video] The retirement minute: Can Macron last another four years?

Ninth day of strike

The inter-union procession is due to start from 14pm in Paris. Since January 19, hundreds of thousands of French people have demonstrated eight times to say their rejection of this reform, whose flagship measure, the postponement of the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 years, crystallizes anger.

Read also: Pensions in France: the key points of the reform

The peak of demonstrators was recorded on March 7 with 1.3 million people according to the authorities, it is more than on January 31. The unions had claimed 3.5 million people in the streets, including 700,000 in Paris.

Since March 16, the date of the use of article 49.3, the challenge in France has shown signs of radicalization. Tense exchanges oppose each evening demonstrators and police, especially in Paris. Nearly a thousand people were arrested.

Several blocking actions against the reform, affecting oil depots, ports, roads, air transport, the gas sector and universities, took place across the country on Wednesday.

→ Fuels: At the national level, the situation is deteriorating slightly with regard to fuel, with about 14% of petrol stations in short supply of at least one type of fuel against 12% on Tuesday, and 7.13% dry, against 6% on Tuesday. Only one in four TotalEnergies refineries is in operation in France. At the Normandy refinery, the largest in France and whose production has been at a complete standstill since Monday, several hundred people gathered Wednesday evening at the call of the CGT to oppose requisitions of striking employees decided, according to the union, by the prefecture. The ports of Marseille-Fos (south) and Brest (west) were totally blocked on Wednesday. The government "will not hesitate" to make requisitions if refineries are stopped by striking staff to protest against the pension reform, warned Monday the Minister of Transport Clément Beaune. "This is a decision of last resort, but as we have done before, as we did in October, if necessary, we would not hesitate to do it to avoid an economic and traffic blockade in our country.


Rally in progress in front of the TotalEnergies Refinery of Gonfreville-l'Orcher at the announcement of requisitions decided by the prefecture, says the CGT of the company.

— France Bleu Normandie (Seine-Maritime, Eure) (@fbleuhnormandie) March 22, 2023

→ Transport: this Thursday, the national railway company SNCF is able to run only half of its high-speed trains and a third of its regional express trains. Rail traffic was interrupted Wednesday in several stations in the south of the France after the intrusion of protesters on the tracks, as in Toulouse, Montpellier or Nimes. The traffic of the Paris metro and suburban trains is expected to be "very disrupted". The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC) asks for Thursday airlines to cancel 30% of their flights at Paris-Orly and 20% at other airports.

→ Waste: The strike of Parisian garbage collectors initiated on March 6 is extended until Monday.

(With AFP)

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