The opposition to pension reform entered a new phase on Tuesday, March 7. After a short break school vacations, the protest movement intensified, with no sign of dwindling: 1.28 million demonstrators in France, according to the Interior Ministry. For the sixth time since January 19, workers, students and pensioners took to the streets in hordes to express their opposition to the government’s plan. This time, however, the unions called for a “massive,” “unparalleled” strike which would “bring France to a stop.”
Early in the morning, CGT-Chimie announced the blockade of fuel shipments in refineries throughout France. There have also been road blockades since Tuesday morning, further disrupting traffic. The four unions representing the SNCF, as well as the entire energy sector, have decided to continue the strike into the following days. The government has asked companies to reduce their flights to Charles-de-Gaulle by 20% and flights to Orly, Beauvais, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Nantes, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice and Toulouse by 30%.
There were around 300 marches nationwide, emphasizing the local roots of the protest. Depending on whether you take the police figures or the organizers’, there were between 20,000 and 30,000 people marching in Brest, and between 15,000 and 22,000 in Pau. In Rodez, numbers varied between 14,500 and 25,000. There were between 14,000 and 17,000 in Saint-Nazaire, between 10,000 and 22,000 in Poitiers. In Lyon (25,000-50,000), Nantes (30,000-75,000) and Toulouse (27,000-120,000) turnout was largely the same as during the beginning of the protests.
In Paris, there were 81,000 protestors according to the police, down from January 31 when the CGT counted 700,000 demonstrators, a record number. CFDT Secretary General Laurent Berger greeted a “historic protest” before the march moved off. “This will be the strongest day of protests since the start of the struggle,” CGT leader Philippe Martinez declared beside him, warning the government against “an attempt to force the reform through, which would just pour oil on the flames.” On Tuesday evening, the eight main workers unions appealed for two new days of protests, including one Saturday, and demanded an “urgent” meeting with Macron.
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Faced with government inflexibility, there were conflicting emotions among the marches – a mix of urgency, the desire to intensify the protests and also resignation. In particular, there was a fear of not being able to force the government to yield, no matter what. In Paris, Julie, who’s been to all the demonstrations, judged that “it’s necessary to bring the country to a halt.” But the 30-year-old, a salaried worker at an art center, was uncertain that this would be enough. “The Yellow Vest protesters back in the day [the end of 2018] blocked everything,” she recalled, “But the system didn’t move that much.”
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