September 29, 2023

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Protesters are preparing for a last-ditch attempt to stop French pension reform

PARIS (Reuters) – French unions will on Tuesday hold protests for the 14th day against government plans to raise the retirement age to 64, in what could be a last-ditch effort to pressure lawmakers to scrap a law already in law. books.

President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to impose reform with special constitutional powers sparked angry protests this spring, but the issue has slowly slipped back down the media agenda, making it difficult for unions to mobilize.

“The protests have been going on for six months now, and it’s unprecedented,” Sophie Binet, the new leader of the hardline CGT union, said on BFM TV. “There is a lot of anger but there is also fatigue,” she said, adding that the strikers were feeling tight on their pay.

However, Binet relied on an “extremely high” level of mobilization on Tuesday and said the CGT union was ready to continue the fight against reform in the coming weeks.

Macron is now enjoying a timid revival in the polls, having launched a PR campaign following the passage of the reform that saw him traverse the country to counter public anger and also to announce major investments in new technologies.

Authorities said between 400,000 and 600,000 people are expected to take part in the protests across France, which is down from the more than 1 million who marched at the height of the retirement protests earlier this year.

Rail company SNCF said intercity trains were likely to be only slightly disrupted, while the metro network in Paris would operate as normal. However, a third of all flights from Paris Orly airport have been cancelled.

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“This is likely to be one of the last days of protests against reform,” CFDT leader Laurent Berger told Europe Radio 1.

He said the CFDT should now turn anger against reform into a “show of strength” in future talks with the government on issues such as improving working conditions to purchasing power.

Unions, which have maintained a rare united front during the entire retirement period, staged a nationwide strike just two days before Parliament is due to review an opposition-sponsored bill aimed at scrapping a minimum retirement age increase.

The speaker of the lower house, a member of Macron’s party, is expected to reject the clause, because under the French constitution, lawmakers cannot pass legislation that burdens public finances without taking measures to offset those costs.

But unions hope the high turnout in the protest will put pressure on lawmakers to review the bill anyway and hold a vote. Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers say rejecting the bill would revive public anger, describing any such move as “anti-democratic”.

Macron, who says reform is needed to close a huge deficit, hopes the approaching summer holidays and improving inflation figures will help the public move forward.

The president’s popularity gained four points in a monthly Elabe poll in June and eight points in a YouGov poll, though it still languishes by 30%.

(Reporting by Michelle Rose) Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Sharon Singleton

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