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France braces for decisive strike action against Macron’s pension reform

France braces for decisive strike action against Macron’s pension reform

Widespread, rolling strikes by trade unions could cause massive disruptions across France and bring the country to a standstill.
France is bracing for a major showdown Tuesday against President Emmanuel Macron’s flagship pensions reform as the passage of the bitterly-contested bill nears its endgame.

Trade unions and left-wing parties have called on workers to “bring France to a standstill,” for what could be the most widespread strike action against the government’s plans to raise the retirement age to 64 from 62. Strikes are expected to hit sectors including schools, airports, energy plants and refineries, with potentially significant disruptions to public transportation and fuel supply.

“We always said that we would go into a higher gear if necessary. That will be the case on Tuesday,” Philippe Martinez, the head of the hardline CGT labor union, told Le Journal du Dimanche on Sunday. Left-wing CGT, the country’s biggest union, called for “grèves reconductibles” or rolling strikes, aimed at bringing the economy to a halt in order to force the government to abandon the reform.

Similar calls came from left-wing parties, with the leader of the left-wing France Unbowed movement, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, urging students to “block everything [they] can.” Tuesday’s strikes follow other day-long protests that kicked off in January against the unpopular reform.

Last week, the government’s spokesperson Olivier Véran said the protest could cause “an ecological, agricultural, sanitary and even human catastrophe in a few months.”

Under the proposed pension overhaul, the number of years of contributions needed for a full pension will rise faster than previously planned and will be set at 43 years from 2027.

The pensions bill is currently being debated in the French Senate, with lawmakers in both chambers of parliament expected to wrap up discussions by the end of March.

The reform is a major test for Macron since losing outright majority in parliament in June last year. During his presidential campaign, the French president vowed to reform France’s state pensions system and bring it in line with European neighbors such as Spain and Germany where the retirement age is 65 to 67 years old. Official predictions show that the finances of France’s state pensions system are balanced in the short term but will go into deficit in the long term.

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