French protesters vow to continue the bitter pension battle, being the only check on Macron.
Protests and strikes against President Emmanuel Macron’s contested pension reform continued throughout France on Thursday, marking the eleventh day of opposition to the unpopular legislation.
Demonstrations took place in several cities, including Paris, where protesters set fire to the awning of a famous brasserie.
Macron, who is currently visiting China, is facing the toughest challenge of his second term over the controversial pension overhaul the government drafted the reform into law without a vote, further enraging critics.
All sides are now anticipating an April 14 ruling by France’s Constitutional Council, which could strike down some or all of the legislation. The unions have already called for another day of strikes and protests for April 11, the eve of the ruling.
“We’re here to put pressure on the Constitution Council,” said 29-year-old protester Nastasia. While council members, known as the “sages,” are expected to make a decision based on legal grounds rather than political, unions are determined to demonstrate that the protest movement is ongoing.
Macron’s government argues that raising the retirement age and toughening the requirements for pensions are necessary to balance the system in response to longer life expectancies. However, a united front of French unions claims that the proposed measures are unfair, particularly to low-skilled workers, many of them women.
The notion of “pénibilité” (hardship) has become a recurrent theme, with demonstrators lamenting the government’s refusal to recognize the challenges of low-income workers. Macron has rejected the term pénibilité, claiming it implies work is inherently painful.
Macron’s suggestion that the country’s deeply divisive politics could be bridged has failed. While opinion polls consistently show that over two-thirds of the country opposes the pension overhaul, many feel that there is no democracy when political power is shored up by executive privilege.
The protests have hardly weakened, despite a drop in turnout. Thousands of people turned out for the eleventh day of protests, with estimates ranging from 570,000 people by the interior ministry to over 400,000 according to the CGT union.
The rallies were largely peaceful, but hardline protestors threw paint at heavily-protected policemen outside La Rotonde and a few protestors threw rocks at police in Nantes. The continuing protests contradict the government’s claim that these protests are being led by “ultra-left rioters.”