Protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s attempts to reform state pensions into a single scheme are in their 19th day with riot police deployed in Paris as tensions continue to flare.
Nationwide strikes, including that of railway workers which has caused enormous disruption in Paris and other major cities over the past near-four weeks, continued Monday, with scenes at the French capital’s Gare Du Lyon station associated with holiday traffic. Ski trains depart from the station for France’s mountainous south, and it is used by many holidaymakers at Christmas time escaping the city.
Riot police manned the ticket barriers at the station rather than station staff, however, as the ongoing strike of SNCF staff saw mass cancellations of trains that last week reportedly saw 60 per cent of services not running and hundreds of miles of traffic in and around Paris.
Newswire service Reuters reported that fights between protesters and police broke out at the station, as individuals let off flares and fireworks, filling the Belle Époque era station building with smoke. The bureau reports the remarks of one commuter stuck in the chaos, who expressed sympathy and remorse at the industrial action. He said: “I understand [the strike] but I am not OK with it as I think all French people are being held hostage and it is difficult for us to understand what the goal is.”
The protests are merely the latest over President Emmanuel Macron’s significant programme of reforms of France. Changing the French pension system was an early promise of his administration, and would see dozens of individual pensions schemes for all different types of civil servants and government workers rolled into one scheme — a move that would streamline the system but would also see individual sectors lose cherished benefits and perks in the one-size-fits-all programme.
President Macron is also attempting to raise the state retirement age to 64.
While President Macron has called for a Christmas truce, the protesters have shown little interest in folding at the moment where the pressure they can bring over France’s transport infrastructure is most keenly felt.
The best-known protests to have hit France under the leadership of arch-globalist Macron are the Yellow Vest protests, which remained determined in the face of at times shocking levels of violent response from riot police units, but nonetheless won serious concessions from Macron on his reform programme. A year after the movement began, nationwide polling found the population still backed the Yellow Vest movement, amid hundreds of investigations of police violence against protesters.