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Around 280 km of traffic disrupted in Paris as transport workers protest Macron’s reforms

The strike was called by unions representing transport workers who fear changes to the French pension system will deny them the right to retire earlier than private sector workers

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Paris was hit by its biggest transport strike in more than a decade as the opposition engaged against a series of reforms planned by President Emmanuel Macron.

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The strike was called by unions representing transport workers who fear changes to France’s pension system – the details yet to be worked out – will deny them the right to retire earlier than private sector workers. Other strikes are planned in the coming days on other subjects, and the unions are also preparing to oppose changes to French unemployment insurance systems.

Macron’s summer has been largely spent on foreign policy issues, but he is wary of triggering a repeat of last year’s anti-tax protests by the so-called “yellow vests”. They forced him to make the first political reversals of his two years in power. The Macron government has bent over backwards to promise consultations with unions and professional organizations before presenting a pension law to parliament in the first half of next year.

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Traffic on Friday was completely stopped on 10 metro lines and was running with less than a third of the normal number of trains on four other lines. Two fully automated lines were operating, but the agency that manages Parisian transport said they risked being overwhelmed by the crowds. French media reported 280 kilometers of traffic jams entering Paris and some suburban rail lines were also barely operational.

Blocked trains

“Participation in the strike shows that it is a serious subject,” Philippe Martinez, leader of the CGT union, told Franceinfo television on Friday. “There is no reason why we have to work longer for our pensions. We have one of the best pension systems in the world.

While most French people have to wait 62 years before being able to receive retirement benefits, some Parisian transport workers can retire at 51. The average retirement age for a Paris transport worker is 53, according to a Senate report, against a national average of 63 for all workers. The average pension for a Parisian transport worker is 3,700 euros ($ 5,440) per month, the Senate said, nearly three times the national average.

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France has 42 different pension systems, according to a recent government report, and public and private sector workers operate under different regimes. The Macron government aims to unify as many of them as possible. The last three French presidents have in one way or another sought to do the same, and each has backed down in the face of the protests.

Members of the CGT union gather inside the headquarters of the Parisian public transport operator La Maison de la RATP in Paris on September 13, 2019 during a one-day strike by RATP employees against the project of French government to reform the country's pension system.
Members of the CGT union gather inside the headquarters of the Parisian public transport operator La Maison de la RATP in Paris on September 13, 2019 during a one-day strike by RATP employees against the project of French government to reform the country’s pension system. Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP / Getty Images

“Whatever happens, we must tell the truth to the French: given demographic changes and the link between workers and retirees, we will have to work longer,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on TF1 on Thursday.

Unions are planning further strikes and protests on September 20, 24 and 27, covering issues such as wages, climate and retirement age. What’s more, what remains of the yellow vests movement joined with other militant groups in calling for large marches on September 21.

While Macron himself will only face voters in 2022, any turbulence would be an unwanted backdrop as he prepares for the spring local elections, critical to the development of his three-year party.

The summer was not entirely calm, even by French standards: health workers went on strike, young people protested against police violence and farmers vandalized the offices of lawmakers who supported a pact free trade with Canada. The roadblocks and the sometimes violent demonstrations of the yellow vests have already put enough pressure on Macron to announce 15 billion euros in spending increases and tax cuts.


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