New protests in France over Macron plan to raise pension age

PARIS (AP) – Protesters opposing President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plan to raise the retirement age to 64 marched Thursday in cities and towns around France, in a final show of anger before a decision on whether the measure meets constitutional standards.

In Paris, as thousands marched along the designated protest route, some protesters holding lit flares veered off to the Constitutional Council, which is to decide Friday whether to nix any or all parts of the legislation.

They faced off with a large contingent of police deployed outside the building, where hours before the march got underway other protesters had dumped bags of garbage.

The trash piles were cleaned up but signaled the start of a new strike by garbage collectors, timed to begin with the nationwide protest marches. A previous strike last month left the streets of the French capital filled for days with mounds of reeking refuse.

Also before the main march, more than 100 railroad workers marched down a Paris street of luxury boutiques, invading luxury conglomerate LVMH offices and going to the first floor before exiting.

Fabien Villedieu of the Sud-Rail Union said LVMH “could reduce all the holes” in France’s social security system. “So one of the solutions to finance the pension system is a better redistribution of wealth, and the best way to do that is to tax the billionaires.”

Bernard Arnault, head of LVMH, “is the richest man in the world so he could contribute,” Villedieu said.

Early on in the main Paris protest, security forces intervened to stop vandals damaging a shop, with 15 people detained, police said. Like in past protests, several hundred “radical elements” had mixed inside the march, police said.

Thousands also marched in Toulouse, Marseille and elsewhere. Tensions mounted at protests in Brittany, notably in Nantes and Rennes, where a car was burned.

“The mobilization is far from over,” the leader of the leftist CGT union, Sophie Binet, said at a trash incineration site south of Paris where several hundred protesters blocked garbage trucks. “As long as this reform isn’t withdrawn, the mobilization will continue in one form or another.”

CGT has been a backbone of the protest and strike movement challenging Macron’s plan to increase France’s retirement age from 62 to 64. Eight unions have organized protests since January in a rare voice of unity. Student unions have joined in.

Macron had initially refused a demand to meet with unions, but during a state visit on Wednesday to the Netherlands proposed “an exchange” to discuss the follow-up to the Constitutional Council decision. There was no formal response to his offer.

Unions hoped for a strong turnout Thursday to pressure both the government and the members of the Constitutional Council tasked with studying the text of the pension reform plan. Critics challenged the government’s choice to include the pension plan in a budget bill, which significantly accelerated the legislative process. The government’s decision to skirt a parliamentary vote by using special constitutional powers transformed opponents’ anger into fury.

Polls consistently show a majority of French people are opposed to the pension reform.

“The contention is strong, anchored in the people,” said Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union. If the measure is promulgated, “there will be repercussions,” he warned, noting the “silent anger” among the union rank and file.

Protests and labor strikes often hobble public transportation in Paris, but Metro trains were mostly running smoothly Thursday. The civil aviation authority asked airports in Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes to reduce air traffic by 20%.


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