Thousands strike as unions protest pension reform
Transport, schools and hospitals across France are severely disrupted as unions stage a day of strikes and demonstrations to protest government plans to reform the pension system and raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.
We were in the middle of checking our emails this rainy morning around 9 a.m. when we heard megaphones and sirens outside our window. Our apartment is literally at the carrefour of Cours Jean Jaures and Bd. Joseph Vallier, two very busy streets with 2 bus stops, a tram stop and 4 lanes of traffic with a circle in the middle of the intersection.
Looking out the window I saw that the police had blocked the streets with their motorcycles, and traffic was being rerouted down the other side of Joseph Vallier. I stepped out onto the terrace and looked to the left down Jean Jaures toward the Bastille. There were people marching down the street towards us.
I quickly threw on my jacket and shoes and hurried downstairs with my camera. What was going on? People dressed in raincoats and carrying umbrellas were marching with banners. An advance van held someone with a megaphone riling the crowd up. I made out Égalité , CGT , Retraites, and Salaires on banners. There were thousands of people marching down the street.
I turned on the France24 station – nothing. Télé Matin – nothing. I had seen a camera man walking backwards in front of the protesters so there must be some coverage somewhere. Finally, I found a station that had some info. Just as school is starting and people are returning from their probable month long vacances, they are “itching for a fight”. The national strike is a tradition in France. The teachers were out yesterday protesting working conditions, and today across most of France the labor unions are protesting because of the vote going on in France’s Parliament regarding the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 62. The government is determined to push this through because they are anticipating a 10 billion € deficit in the program for just this year.
From what I have gotten from the news, 53% of the population support Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reform proposal (his own public approval rating however is at 32%). Some think the unions’ protest may backfire because the public is not very tolerant of the disruptions to transportation, schools and the telecommunications areas. Another interesting fact is that 80% of the country’s population is under 64. Most of the people striking will not be impacted by the changes for a while.
More unrest is anticipated in the weeks to come. Should be interesting!
CGT: :General Confederation of Labour of France (CGT) and its Government Employees’ Union
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