Refinery strikes persisted in France yesterday and more demonstrations were taking place throughout the country amid anger at the government pushing through a rise in the state pension age without a parliamentary vote.
The growing unrest, combined with rubbish piling up on the streets of Paris after refuse workers joined in the action, has left President Emmanuel Macron with the gravest challenge to his authority since the so-called “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vests) protests of December 2018.
Some 37% of operational staff at TotalEnergies’ refineries and depots – at sites including Feyzin in southeast France and Normandy in the north – were on strike yesterday, a company spokesperson said.
Meanwhile rolling strikes continued on the railways.
Riot police clashed with protesters on Friday evening in Paris as a demonstration took place at the capital’s Place de la Concorde, near the Assemblee Nationale parliament building, resulting in 61 arrests.
This led the Paris Prefecture yesterday to ban rallies on Place de la Concorde and the nearby Champs-Elysees.
A further rally was however slated for later on Place d’Italie in southern Paris.
Elsewhere in the French capital, a group of students and activists from the “Revolution Permanente” collective briefly invaded the Forum des Halles shopping mall, waving banners calling for a general strike and shouting “Paris stand up, rise up”, videos on social media showed.
Ariane Laget, 36, was among some 200 people demonstrating in the small southern town of Lodeve.
“We’re fed up. We feel like we’re being trampled on and no one is listening,” she said.
Large crowds also took to the streets in the western city of Nantes.
“Death to the king,” read one placard, in an apparent reference to the president.
BFM television also showed images of demonstrations underway in cities such as Compiegne in the north, Nantes in the west and Marseille in the south.
In the southeastern city of Lyon, demonstrators tried to break into a town hall and set fire to the building, said police, who reported 36 arrests.
“There is no place for violence. One must respect parliamentary democracy,” Digital Transition and Telecommunications Minister Jean-Noel Barrot told Sud radio.
A broad alliance of France’s main unions has said it would continue to mobilise to try to force a U-turn on the changes.
A day of nationwide industrial action is scheduled for Thursday.
While eight days of nationwide protests since mid-January, and many local industrial actions, have so far been largely peaceful, the unrest over the last three days is reminiscent of the Yellow Vest protests which erupted in late 2018 over high fuel prices, and which forced Macron into a partial U-turn on a carbon tax.
Macron’s overhaul raises the pension age by two years to 64, which the government says is essential.
Opposition lawmakers have filed two motions of no confidence in the government, which are to be debated in parliament tomorrow afternoon according to parliamentary sources.
They hope to garner enough support to topple the cabinet and repeal the law to raise the retirement age.
Opinion polls have shown around two-thirds of French people oppose the reform, which is also to require people to work longer for a full pension.
The government has said it is necessary to avoid the system from slipping into deficit, and bring France in line with its European neighbours where the legal retirement age is typically higher.
However, critics say the changes are unfair for people who start working at a young age in physically tough jobs, and women who interrupt their careers to raise children.