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Millions in France Demonstrate and Strike Against Pension Reform with More To Come Soon

Jan. 21, 2023, 2022 (EIRNS)— Hundreds of thousands went on strike and joined marches across France on Thursday, January 19, halting trains, disrupting schooling and cutting electricity production in a trial for the government, as workers oppose a deeply unpopular pension overhaul. The Interior Ministry counted 1.12 million demonstrators in France as a whole, including 80,000 in Paris. The hardline CGT union said there were 2 million people throughout the country, 400,000 in Paris, and maybe another million on strike. Large demonstrations, all greater than in 2019, were staged in over 200 cities: some 40,000 people marched in Lyon; 30,000 in Toulouse; 26,000 in Marseilles; 18,000 in Caen; 15,000 in Montpellier; 14,000 in Tours; 10,000 in Le Havre; and 7,000 in Alès.

Firefighters, bakers, museum workers, teachers, train and metro drivers, and also high-school students and citizens stopped work on Jan. 19 to protest a reform they deem unjust and untimely as the cost of living hits an all-time high. The strikes brought much of Paris public transport to a standstill and halted a large proportion of trains throughout France. One metro line was closed completely, with another 12 “very disrupted,” Paris transport operator RATP told AFP. There were 46.3% of workers at the state-owned rail company SNCF. The Education Ministry said 42.35% of primary school teachers and 34.66% of the secondary school teachers were on strike. Teachers’ unions placed those estimates at 65-70%. Early on Thursday, strikers at state-owned energy provider EDF said they had lowered electricity output by 7,000 MW, while grid operator RTE put the figure at 5,000 MW—enough to power two cities the size of Paris. The reduction would have “no impact on users,” the CGT said.

Both the unions and the police prevented violence as much as possible. Only some 30 people were arrested, mostly from some 1,000 “Black Bloc” radicals in masks, helmets and black clothes, which had split off a group from the main demonstration in Paris.

President Emmanuel Macron refused to reconsider his reform. Speaking from Barcelona, where he attended a French-Spanish summit, he insisted again: “We must have that reform. ... We will do it with respect, in a spirit of dialogue but also determination and responsibility.”

The inter-union alliance has called for a mobilization of the same magnitude on Jan. 31. The CFDT, the main “reformist” trade-union which is always working for the dominant powers and actually favors a pension reform, with minor disagreements on some details, wants to keep things low key and lobby the MPs to “improve” the government plan.

According to inside sources, the more traditional local unions and CGT branches, even opposing their own leadership, warn that “leapfrogging”— leaving too many days between each new mobilization—will suck out the spirit and bring about its defeat. These rank and file union leaders want the government to drop the reform right away, determined to return to the streets until the government backs down. While the inter-union group only plans a new day of action on Jan. 31, other organizations want immediate, major actions. On Jan. 26, a 48-hour strike will hit the oil refineries and the energy sector. The CGT warns, “Let no one be fooled, we will be crushed by the government if we don’t strike now while the iron is hot, and bringing disruption to a crescendo, until it paralyzes the country’s economy.”

Encouraged by these calls for mobilization, citizens could also organize demonstrations. Police intelligence dreads “a new large-scale citizen mobilization” with the accumulation of hot issues: inflation, the energy crisis, and now, the pension reform. The police say they fear “long strikes in several key sectors of the economy” and demonstrations “outside any union framework,” as well as “necessarily disruptive and unpredictable modes of action.”

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