Protests erupt in France over Macron raising retirement age without parliament

Protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to force a bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 through parliament without a vote disrupted traffic, garbage collection and university campuses in Paris as opponents of the change maintained their resolve to get the government to back down.

Striking sanitation workers blocked a waste collection plant that is home to Europe’s largest incinerator to underline their determination, and university students walked out of lecture halls to join the strikes.

Leaders of the influential CGT union called on people to leave schools, factories, refineries and other workplaces.

Several groups, including the yellow vest activists who had mounted formidable protests against Macron’s economic policies during his first term, called on the president’s opponents to march on the parliament at 6 p.m. local time Friday (17:00GMT).

The yellow vest activists at the march on parliament protest on Friday
Yellow vest activists at the march on parliament on Friday, March 16.
AFP via Getty Images

French protests
Protesters near Concorde Square in Paris set garbage aflame after a demonstration last night.

A passerby rides past wreckage ignited by Paris protesters.
AFP via Getty Images

Union leaders were not the only ones angry about Macron’s plan to make French citizens work for two more years before becoming eligible to collect full pensions.

Opposition parties were expected to start procedures later Friday for a no-confidence vote against the government led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

The vote would likely take place early next week.

Macron ordered Borne on Thursday to make use of a special constitutional power to push the highly unpopular pension bill through without a vote in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.

Police officers during the march on parliament on Friday night.
Police officers respond during the march on parliament on Friday night.
AFP via Getty Images

Agitated citizens cause chaos in the streets in Paris over the pension bill.
AFP via Getty Images

His calculated risk infuriated opposition lawmakers, many citizens and unions. Thousands gathered in protest Thursday at the Place de la Concorde, which faces the National Assembly building.

As night fell, police officers charged the demonstrators in waves to clear the square. Small groups moved through nearby streets in the chic Champs-Elysees neighborhood, setting street fires.

Similar scenes repeated themselves in numerous other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in eastern France to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed, according to French media.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told radio station RTL on Friday that 310 people were arrested overnight. Most of the arrests, 258, were made in Paris, according to Darmanin.

French protests
Municipal workers block the entrance of a waste incarnation plant in Paris after protests surrounding Macron’s decision.

The trade unions that had organized strikes and marches against a higher retirement age said more rallies and protest marches would take place in the days ahead.

“This retirement reform is brutal, unjust, unjustified for the world of workers,” they declared.

Overwhelming streets with discontent and refusing to continue working is “the only way that we will get them to back down,” CGT union representative Régis Vieceli told the Associated Press on Friday. He added: “We are not going to stop.”

Protesters hide behind umbrellas as they set off flares.
AFP via Getty Images

Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is needed to make the French economy more competitive and to keep the pension system from diving into deficit.

France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

Macron decided to invoke the special power during a cabinet meeting a few minutes before a scheduled vote in the National Assembly, where the legislation had no guarantee of securing majority support. The Senate adopted the bill earlier Thursday.

Opposition lawmakers demanded that the government step down. If the expected no-confidence motion fails, the pension bill would be considered adopted. If it passes, it would also spell the end of Macron’s retirement reform plan and force the government to resign, a first since 1962.

Macron could reappoint Borne if he chooses, and a new cabinet would be named.

Macron’s centrist alliance has the most seats in the National Assembly, where a no-confidence motion also requires majority support.

Left-wing and far-right lawmakers are determined to vote in favor.

Leaders of the Republicans have said their conservative party would not back the motion. While some party lawmakers might stray from that position, they are expected to be a minority.

2023-03-17 13:59:00