France strikes: Unions hold ‘black Friday’ protests as Macron unveils controversial pension reforms

Anthony Cuthbertson

France faces another day of industrial action and mass protests on Friday, after unions called for a “black Friday” of strikes against the government’s proposed pension reforms.

Hardline union CGT listed more than 350 protests taking place throughout the country on Friday, while major shutdowns of transport networks and other public services were also renewed.

It marks the 51st day of nationwide action, making them the longest strikes in more than 50 years.

Demonstrations were also held on Thursday night, as a torchlight procession took place in Paris with workers determined to stop the controversial pension plan.

Industrial action this week has included a three-day walkout by dockers in the port of Rouen, as well as a shut-down of France’s biggest hydro-electricity plant near Grenoble.

The strikes against proposed pension reforms are the longest since 1968 (Statista)
The strikes against proposed pension reforms are the longest since 1968 (Statista)

Prime minister Edouard Philippe accused workers who disrupted critical infrastructure of “disrespecting democracy and the law”, while CGT boss Philippe Martinez said the government was “refusing to recognise the discontent”.

The more moderate CFE-CGC confederation of trade unions suggested that it would “take a break” after Friday’s action. A spokesperson told AFP: “Our members are difficult to mobilise on a long-term basis, they have responsibilities.”

Despite the disruption, public support for the strikes remains strong. A poll for BFM TV on Wednesday found that 61 per cent of people thought Emmanuel Macron should recognise the unrest and withdraw the proposals.

Under Mr Macron’s reforms, France’s 42 different pension schemes would be unified into a universal points-based system. Critics claim it is a betrayal of workers’ rights and will force people to work longer for less money.

The government has already made concessions by negotiating deals with police, military and other sectors to allow them to retire early. It has also backed down on its original plans to raise the full pension age from 62 to 64.

The updated reforms will be presented at a cabinet meeting on Friday before being brought to parliament, with Mr Macron claiming they are essential in order to balance the pension budget.

Once the bill has been brought to the National Assembly, a committee will be set up to examine the reforms and hear from trade unions and employers.

Debates will begin on 17 February in France’s lower house and the government hopes to pass the bill into law by early March.