France Witnessing Protests as Unions Make Final Effort to Oppose Raised Retirement Age

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PARIS, France (AP) — French union workers demonstrated at the Paris Olympics headquarters and disrupted traffic at Orly airport to renew opposition to raising the retirement age. However, the last effort drew fewer participants than at the height of the movement earlier this year, with some union leaders signaling a readiness to move on.

President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and pass the measure through parliament without a vote sparked public protests, leading to the largest protests in France in years. However, public anger over the pension reform has subsided after major protests on May 1, which drew more than 500,000 people in Paris alone, and since the measure became law in April.

As part of Tuesday’s actions, around a third of flights at Orly airport were canceled due to the strikes, and around 10% of trains across France were disrupted. Around 250 marches, rallies and other events were planned across the country, marking the 14th day of national protests against pension reform since January.

In a show of defiance, a smll group of activists from the hard-left CGT union forced their way into the 2024 Olympics headquarters in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, chanting anti-Macron slogans.

In Paris, there were minor clashes near a Left Bank restaurant, where some vandalized bus shelters and threw objects at police. Police quickly dispersed the crowd.

Thousands of protesters gathered along the Seine River near the gold-domed Invalides monument before beginning their march toward southeast Paris. The peaceful crowd waved union flags, beat drums and chanted slogans, demanding the withdrawal of the pension law and lowering of the retirement age.

In the western city of Rennes, union workers tried to march on the train tracks but were stopped by police, according to local public broadcaster France Bleu.

Macron argues that pension reform is necessary to fund the pension system as the population ages. However, unions and left-wing opponents claim the changes disproportionately affect low-income workers and advocate for higher taxes on the wealthy and employers instead.

Laurent Berger, the outgoing leader of the moderate CFDT union, said after Tuesday’s actions, “We will continue to fight for retirement reform, but it will take a different form.”

CGT head Sophie Bennett mentioned at the Paris march that more protests were “likely” but also stressed the need to address other issues such as working conditions and corporate tax fraud.

Organizers of Tuesday’s protests hope to win support ahead of a possible parliamentary debate on Thursday about a bill to repeal the new retirement age. However, a bill proposed by lawmakers from the centrist opposition group LIOT to raise the retirement age to 62 has run into hurdles before it can be debated in parliament. Although Macron’s centrist party does not have a majority in the National Assembly, it has formed an alliance with the conservative Republican Party to thwart opposition efforts.