French left in last-ditch bid to derail pensions overhaul

French trade unions organised another day of strikes and demonstrations on Tuesday to try and derail President Emmanuel Macron’s pensions overhaul, insisting that the fight to thwart the changes is not over even after it became law.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to take to the streets across France for what will be the 14th day of demonstrations since January to oppose the reform.

Macron signed the legislation into law in April, raising the pension age to 64 from 62 after the government used a controversial but legal mechanism to avoid a vote in parliament on the bill.

The later retirement age, which seeks to bolster France’s troubled long-term finances, was a banner pledge of Macron’s second and final term in office.

“It’s going to be another big day in the history of the trade union movement,” the new head of the hard-left CGT union, Sophie Binet, told BFM television on Tuesday. “After six months the unions are still united and the level of anger, frustraton and motivation is high.”

“I hear people say sometimes that everything is over, but it’s not true.”

Around 250 demonstrations around the country have been announced and authorities expect between 400,000- 600,000 people to take to the streets, less than half of the peak on March 7, when 1.28 million were counted by police.

Security forces are on high alert for radical anarchist groups which frequently infiltrate large gatherings to clash with police and vandalise property. A total of 11,000 officers are on duty.

In contrast to March and April when rubbish piled up in the streets of Paris and most long-distance trains were cancelled, only limited disruption is expected on transport or public services.

Around a third of flights were cancelled at Paris Orly airport.

– ‘Increase in anger and violence’ –
Parts of the pensions overhaul, including the key increase in the retirement age, were printed Sunday in France’s official journal, meaning they are now law.

Opponents are pinning their hopes on a motion put forward by the small Liot faction in parliament — broadly backed by the left — to repeal the law and reverse the increased retirement age.

Parliament speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, a member of Macron’s party but officially neutral, was to rule on Thursday whether a vote could go ahead.

Most observers expect her to declare the bid to be unconstitutional.

“It would be a scandal to stop this vote from a democratic point of view,” the CGT’s Binet added. “It would be akin to closing down a possible exit to this crisis.”

In an op-ed for the Le Monde daily on Monday, the key figures from all of France’s left-wing parties urged Braun-Pivet to allow a vote on the motion.

“For our fellow citizens, a new denial of democracy will only lead to increased disaffection for our institutions, which is already manifesting itself in the form of growing abstentionism, and even an increase in anger and violence,” they said.

Having faced down the biggest protests in a generation to push through the changes, Macron appears intent on moving on, having concluded that voters now view the changes as inevitable and support for the demonstrations is waning.

The opposition “knows very well that this motion has no future,” Prisca Thevenot, an MP for Macron’s Renaissance party, told LCI television on Sunday.

The president’s personal ratings are also moving higher again, having plunged to near-record depths in March and April.

After two months of falls, a poll on June 2 by the Elabe survey group showed that 29 percent of people had confidence in his ability to manage the country, up four points.

Around two thirds of people (64 percent) expressed no confidence, however, underlining the deep animosity felt by many voters towards the former investment banker.

Macron has argued that the changes are essential for France’s financial health and to bring the country into line with its EU neighbours.

In April, Fitch, one of the leading credit ratings agencies, lowered its rating on France’s debt, which is approaching three trillion euros ($3.2 trillion).



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