person with a mask on and yellow flag around their head and backpack in the front of their body stand in front of fire posing with their fist in the air during protests in Paris on March 28, 2023

The French People Battle Pension Reform in Paris

Paris, France — More than 100,000 people demonstrated in Paris, France during a nationwide 24-hour strike on March 28 to protest French President Emmanuel Macron’s forced pension reform plan that raises the retirement age.

In January, Elizabeth Born, the Prime Minister of France, announced a law that will raise the age of retirement from 62 to 64 years old. Since then, unions – no matter their political background – started one of the largest waves of demonstrations in the country since May of 1968. 

The government of Emmanuel Macron is governing France without having the majority of the votes in the parliament. The Republican Party, in which Macron is relying on for votes, said no to this reform. This led Macron to bypass the parliament to push through the reform by enacting article 49.3, an article of the Constitution that gives the President extra power and legislative authorities. 

Over the last months, every city in France has been resisting this unpopular reform that was passed in an undemocratic way. This sentiment went beyond the streets of France. Τwo impeachment voting procedures took place in the parliament during March, but failed to impeach Emmanuel Macron. On his last media appearance after bypassing the parliament, President Macron said that, “This reform isn’t a luxury, it’s not a pleasure, it’s a necessity.”

Police Violence

This second, and last, term of presidency for Emannuel Macron has been highlighted with increased police violence. The French parliament passed a bill making it obligatory to declare every demonstration to the authorities. Declared demonstrations, for the most part, do not face police violence.

Yet, last month demonstrators of all ages were on the streets of France every day, rioting and expressing their anger at the decisions of president Macron. These spontaneous non-declared demonstrations are being targeted by police. The latest incidents in Sainte Soline on March 25, demonstrate how police are dealing with protestors, leaving one person in a coma and several injured or even mutilated.

A college student participating in the uprisings from the prestigious Sorbonne University said during the mass protest on March 28 in Paris that it’s the police that have been violent and attacking the people, from Saint Soline to Normandy to Paris. 

“We’re here, and we’re not letting the cops kick us down. The students are not particularly violent. Just if the cops attack us, we answer. We are not only here, many students went to Sainte-Soline, and to the refineries of Normandy. We are not just dealing with the police, we are dealing with all the forces of the French regime.”

College student speaking during mass protest against pension reform

French police consist of three operational teams: CRS, BAC and BRAV-M. CRS is the main anti-riot police whose central task is to stay on the streets, while sometimes charging crowds. BAC is an Anti-Criminality Brigade which shows up in demonstrations, mostly undercover, without wearing a police uniform. BRAV-M is a motorcycle police unit that has shown the most violence in the streets of France. 

Many in France see these units as armed forces on the streets of Paris that ‘find pleasure from beating the youth.’ 

“We are against armed forces and do not understand where it comes from. I mean, BRAV-M is clearly not here to solve any problem with the protests. They are here to beat the youth. They insult us, they beat us, and it pleases them.“ 

College student speaking during mass protest against pension reform
French police, CRS, charge protesters against President Macron’s pension reform on March 28, 2023 in Paris, France – photo contributed by Alex Litsardakis

Devoted Unions

Unions in France have shown an unprecedented devotion to their cause. Compared to other countries where unions have largely lost their power, or even their willingness and strategy, French working-class people seem to have strategically approached the agenda of Emmanuel Macron for the last four months.

Demonstrations and strikes have been ongoing since the announcement of the reform in January. Over the last month, unions have been organizing weekly strikes, and on Tuesday, March 28 unions launched their tenth recent strike. 

One of the most powerful strikes were those of the workers in the cleaning sector, who left garbage in Paris’ streets and bins for two weeks in a row. Industrial workers are striking too, with workers of petrol company Total, which made a record profit of $36.2B in 2022, going on a strike for several days in refineries and fuel depots. Reuters is reporting that 37% of operational staff at TotalEnergies went on strike in March, provoking a fall for the stock market value of the company. 

Bastien Uitsice, the secretary general of CNT (Confédération Nationale du Travail) Paris, a French anarcho-syndicalist union, spoke to Unicorn Riot about the latest strikes and demonstrations in France: 

“We will close nearly two months of mobilization, with a steady escalation at all levels. From the beginning, the mobilization and marches were formed by the unions with the aim of not passing the bill. But the bill was passed by force, and this bill increases the working time and also decreases the value of labor.

Today [March 28] is the 10th day of interprofessional mobilization. These days are accompanied by many other actions taking place in many areas and have grown significantly since the government decided, in a general discrediting of the democratic mechanism, to implement all possible mechanisms of the constitution to pass reforms without being voted on by parliament. So, at this stage, although the law has come into force, we are again on the streets today to remember that now the ball is sitting between the movement and the government, there is nothing in the middle. Unless something emerges from the constitutional commission, but there is not much hope. 

From the beginning we, in CNT, believe that everything will be done in the streets. All people have been on the streets the last week to denounce the dictatorial policy of the government and its decisions, but also the police crackdown that is becoming more brutal. We have people who have suffered many wounds, because beyond this movement there are other struggles that came to clasp to this. In essence, all this neoliberal government is rejected and the majority of the world supports us. 

CNT is a self-organized trade union and from the beginning we are fighting in the streets to learn that this is where our future is played. We try to mobilize as many workers as we can. Today we have a block that coalesces around our values: self-organization, direct democracy, no hierarchy. We can imagine another society and we are trying to build it. We need a lot of people, and people are happy to see that we exist.

A cardboard portrait of President Macron with devil horns is held along with a sign behind it reading “Whoever sows misery harvests anger” amid masses of protesters on March 28, 2023 in Paris, France – photo contributed by Alex Litsardakis

For more Unicorn Riot coverage on France, see our archives.

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