- Macron says he will not budge on the retirement law
- Unions and protesters are angry
- The ninth day of nationwide strikes
PARIS, March 23 (Reuters) – French workers angry at President Emmanuel Macron and his plan to raise the retirement age were denied access to a terminal at Paris’s main airport on Thursday as part of a day of nationwide protests, forcing some travelers to get there. By foot.
At Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport and across the country, small groups of protesters blocked roads and access to schools and universities, while demonstrators gathered holding banners reading “No to pension reform”.
Near Toulouse, in the southwest, plumes of smoke were seen rising from piles of burning debris blocking traffic on a motorway. BFM TV footage showed that union activists also blocked train tracks at the Gare de Lyon station in Paris.
Polls have long shown that a majority of voters opposed delaying the retirement age by two years, to 64.
Voter anger was heightened by the government’s decision last week to push pension changes through parliament without a vote, as well as by Macron’s defiant remarks on Wednesday.
“I am on strike to protest against the pension reform, but also against what is happening in the government,” said Lucille Bede, 27, in charge of programming at Air France, at a rally in Nantes.
“They no longer listen to people.”
Macron broke weeks of silence over the new policy to say he would stand firm and the law would take effect by the end of the year, at one point comparing the protests to the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Laurent Berger, head of France’s largest trade union, the moderate CFDT, told BFM TV that Macron’s comments had “intensified anger”.
“He is the one who set the country on fire,” Celine Verzelletti of the hardline CGT union told France Inter radio.
Electricity production was also cut off on Thursday as unions increased pressure on the government to withdraw the law. France’s civil aviation authority said flight services would continue to decline at the end of the week.
Protests also targeted oil depots and shut down a liquefied natural gas station in the northern city of Dunkirk.
Protests against the new law, which also accelerates a planned increase in the number of years one must work to get a full pension, have drawn huge crowds at union-organised rallies since January.
Most of the protests have been peaceful, but anger has escalated since the government bypassed the vote in the lower house of parliament, where it does not have an absolute majority and was not sure it would have enough support.
Since then, the past seven nights have seen demonstrations in Paris and other cities with rubbish bins set on fire and clashes with police.
The latest wave of protests represents the most serious challenge to the president’s authority since the “yellow vest” revolution four years ago.
“The street has legitimacy in France. If Mr. Macron does not remember this historical fact, I do not know what he is doing here,” said Willy Mansel, a 42-year-old entertainment program worker, in the assembly of Nantes.
Losing days of wages when on strike takes a toll at a time of hyperinflation, and the government hopes protests and strikes will eventually lose momentum.
On Wednesday, Macron said he had tasked his prime minister, Elisabeth Bourne, with finding more support for the government. He said he wanted unions to be more involved in upcoming policy changes on issues including schools, health or the environment.
Labor Minister Olivier Dussopp said the government did not deny the tensions but wanted to move forward.
“There are many topics that make it possible to renew the dialogue,” he said, including how companies share their profits with workers.
Additional reporting by Dominic Vidalon, Forest Crellin, John Irish, Sudeep Kar-Gupta, Lucien Lippert, Stéphane Mahy, Eric Gaillard; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Christina Fincher
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