Conflicts & War

French unions threaten escalation in battle over pensions

By Angel Calvo

Paris, Feb 11 (EFE).- The leaders of France’s largest labor organizations said Saturday that they are prepared to shut down the country if President Emmanuel Macron does not abandon his plan to increase the retirement age.

Ahead of leading the fourth in a series of marches in Paris to denounce the government’s policy, the union chiefs held a joint press conference to put Macron on notice that they will resort to stronger measures if he doesn’t relent.

Besides announcing a fifth nationwide mobilization, set for Feb. 16, they said that if the government and lawmakers continue to “turn deaf ears to the popular opposition,” the leaders said they will urge their members to “paralyze all sectors of France” on March 7.

While the secretary-general of the CFDT, Laurent Berger, was careful to say that he and his colleagues were not advocating a general strike, he suggested that French workers might emulate “our Spanish friends” with tactics such as holding assemblies in the workplace and shutting down certain activities,

The CFDT is the largest of France’s five labor federations in terms of membership and Berger is known as a moderate who prefers negotiation to confrontation.

On Saturday, however, he decried the “madness” of the government’s refusal to heed the voices of the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets to reject the idea of raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and increase to 43 the number of years someone must work to receive a full pension.

“The ball is now in the court of the president of the republic,” said Philippe Martinez, head of the traditionally more combative CGT labor federation.

Macron’s response will show “whether the movement has to expand or harden itself or if he takes into account the current mobilizations and returns to reason,” Martinez said.

The union officials then led some 93,000 people – according to police, organizers put the number at 500,000 – on a march through the capital.

Nearly 250 protests took part across France on Saturday, involving between 963,000 and 2.5 million people.

Most of the demonstrations were peaceful, though police arrested eight people in the capital for setting fire to dumpsters and a vehicle.

Saturday’s mobilization included a wildcat strike by air traffic controllers that forced the cancelations of half the flights due to land or takeoff at Paris Orly Airport, the country’s busiest domestic terminal. EFE ac/dr

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