Some 380,000 people protested across France yesterday against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, a sharp fall on turnout at last week’s rallies, the interior ministry said.
It had counted 570,000 people last week.
French union CGT chief Sophie Binet said more than 1.5mn people marched yesterday for the 12th day of protests since January against the reform, again lower than unions’ estimate of almost 2mn for the last protest day on April 6.
The interior ministry said 42,000 people protested in Paris yesterday, while unions led by the CGT gave a figure of 400,000 for the capital.
There were new violent clashes between police and protesters in western France, while demonstrators also stormed the headquarters of French luxury goods firm LVMH in Paris.
All eyes will turn today to France’s Constitutional Council, the country’s highest administrative authority, which will announce its verdict on the pensions legislation in the final hurdle before Macron can sign it into law.
The protest march in Paris was closing in on the Constitutional Council’s headquarters, opposite the Louvre museum in central Paris, which was protected by a phalanx of anti-riot police in full body armour brandishing shields.
Police had expected 400,000-600,000 people to take part nationwide to protest the reforms, which include raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.
“Now’s not the time to give up, because that’s what Macron is expecting,” said Johan Chivert, a student in the Creuse region in central France. “We have to keep going and show the people are against this reform.”
If the court issues a green light – as ministers are privately confident it will – Macron hopes to sign the changes into law immediately, clearing the way for them to enter into force before the end of 2023.
Protesters said they would keep up the fight if the Council gave a green light.
“We don’t want to work until 64,” 50-year-old teacher Kathy Brochard said at the Paris rally.
Having repeatedly snubbed calls for talks with union leaders in recent weeks, Macron said he would invite labour representatives for discussions once the court decision was published.
“The decision from the constitutional court on Friday will bring an end to the democratic and constitutional procedures,” the 45-year-old leader told reporters on a trip to the Netherlands on Wednesday, adding that public debate “will continue, for sure”.
Paris police have banned any demonstration around the Constitutional Council until morning tomorrow.
Strike momentum has been clearly waning on what is the 12th day of action since the start of the movement in January, with employees reluctant to sacrifice salaries for what seems like a losing battle.
Most trains were running yesterday at state rail operator SNCF and the Paris public transport provider RATP, past bastions of strike participation.
However, the movement is “far from over”, said the head of the CFDT union Laurent Berger as the demonstration got under way in Paris, vowing major protests on the May 1 labour day.
The hard-left CGT union has called for new strikes by refinery workers and rubbish collectors, whose walkout left the streets of Paris heaving with rubbish for three weeks in March.
A Mercedes car and bins were set on fire in the western city of Rennes, while protesters and police clashed in Nantes, a flashpoint of tension in recent weeks, AFP reporters said.
Protesters briefly occupied the headquarters of LVMH on the glitzy Avenue Montaigne in central Paris and set off smoke flares.
“You’re looking for money to finance pensions? Take it from the pockets of billionaires,” said Sud Rail union leader Fabien Villedieu.
“Mobilisation must continue because this bill cannot see the light of day,” Manuel Bompard, a leading lawmaker for hard-left opposition party France Unbowed, told broadcaster France 2 yesterday.
The Constitutional Council – whose members are known as “the wise ones” – has the power to block parts of the legislation or even reject it wholesale.
Surveys show that about two in three French people are against the pension changes, but Macron argues that they are essential to stop the system falling into heavy deficit in coming decades.
Critics accuse the president of riding roughshod over public opinion and parliament, where the minority government invoked controversial executive powers to ram the legislation through without a vote at the end of March.
“I’m proud of the French social model and I defend it but if we want to make it sustainable, we have to produce more,” Macron said in the Netherlands.
Political observers say the widespread discontent over the government’s reform could have longer-term repercussions, including a possible boost for the far-right.
“I’m not that optimistic about the Constitutional Council’s decision,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who opposes the pension legislation, told BFM TV. “But what do you want me to do? Burn cars? We’ll just tell the French: Vote for the National Rally.”

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