French unions stepped up their fight against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plans on Tuesday as most trains came to a halt, fuel deliveries were disrupted and schools shut in a sixth day of nationwide strikes.
To increase pressure on lawmakers not to raise the pension age by two years to 64, unions said there would be rolling strikes this time, which could go on for days, including at oil refineries and railways.
Street protests are expected to take place in more than 300 towns and cities.
“We will continue until the reform is withdrawn,” the head of FO union, Frédéric Souillot, told RTL radio.
Garbage collectors and truck drivers joined the strike, in a sign the protests were spreading to more sectors.
In Paris, garbage collectors have started an open-ended strike, and on Tuesday morning they blocked access to the incineration plant of Ivry-sur-Seine, south of the capital, Europe’s biggest such facility.
“The job of a garbage collector is painful. We usually work very early or late … 365 days per year. We usually have to carry heavy weight or stand up for hours to sweep,” said Regis Viecili, a 56-year-old garbage worker.
“A lot of garbage workers die before the retirement age,” Viceli added.
Fuel deliveries blocked
Like in previous strikes, power production was reduced, fuel deliveries and refining were disrupted and many teachers walked off the job.
Workers disrupted fuel deliveries and refining operations at several sites operated by TotalEnergies and Esso on Tuesday while power supply was also reduced.
However, a spokesperson for Esso, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, said that while deliveries had indeed been blocked at the Fos site since Monday evening for an expected 48 hour period, there was no impact on production. Deliveries from the Port Jerome site have also been affected since early morning, they added.
“Esso is doing everything to supply its customers and reduce the consequences of this national movement against the pension reform,” the spokesperson said.
The TotalEnergies spokesperson said that out of 296 operators on its sites, 64 per cent were on strike on Tuesday morning.
Rallies are planned across France after more than 1.27 million people took part in previous protests on Jan. 31.
There were reports of students blocking schools while BFM-TV showed footage of workers abandoning cars on the side of the road near Amiens in northern France as others blocked access to an industrial zone.
“This reform is unfair,” said Aurelie Herkous, who works in public finance in the Normandy town of Pont Audemer. “Macron offers tax gifts to companies … he’s got to stop coming down on the same people time after time.”
Some travellers affected by the strike said they backed it even if it made going to work tricky, with high-speed train service limited, almost all regular Intercity trains cancelled, and the Paris metro seriously disrupted.
“Of course it has an impact on me because I need to go to work like everyone else,” security guard Alex Cristea said at the Paris Saint-Lazare train station. “But I support them for what they do … it’s of utmost importance.”
Les Republicains to Macron: ‘Hang in there’
Opinion polls have for weeks shown that a majority of voters reject the reform, but the government insists it is essential to ensure the pension system does not go broke. The government is hoping the reform can be adopted by parliament by the end of March.
“I can understand that not many people want to work two more years, but it’s necessary to ensure the viability of the system,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told France 5 TV.
While Macron’s camp does not have an absolute majority in parliament, it can count on the support of at least part of the conservative Les Republicains.
“I’m telling Emmanuel Macron to hang in there,” LR senator Bruno Retailleau has said. “If he gives in, he won’t be able to carry out more reforms, it would be the end of his [second] term.”
Still, it is unclear whether the changes will be approved by parliament by the end of the month or if the government will have to ram them through using special constitutional powers.
“We are going into a higher gear,” the head of CGT union, Philippe Martinez, told weekly JDD. “The ball is now in president’s court. It is up to him to withdraw this reform.”