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French unions turn the screws on Macron in pension reform battle

  • Published at 12:18 am December 7th, 2019
FRANCE-SOCIAL-STRIKE-DEMO
BRAV brigades police walk next to red flares during a demonstration to protest against the pension overhauls, in Paris, on December 5, 2019 as part of a national general strike AFP

Union leaders said public workers should maintain their industrial action until Tuesday, when they urged members to flood the streets once again

France's trade unions called for mass protests and strikes over pension reform that have brought much of the country to a halt to carry on next week, piling more pressure on President Emmanuel Macron.

Commuters faced severe disruption getting to work on Friday, hospitals have been left understaffed and Paris City Hall said dozens of schools in the capital would stay closed, as unions dug in over Macron's plans to streamline one of the developed world's most generous pension systems.

Transport workers went on strike on Thursday and took to the streets - joined by teachers, doctors, police, firemen and civil servants. Smoke and tear gas swirled through parts of Paris and Nantes as protests turned violent.

Union leaders said public workers should maintain their industrial action until Tuesday, when they urged members to flood the streets once again.

"Unions will meet on Tuesday evening to decide on our next actions if by then Macron and (Prime Minister) Edouard Philippe have not reversed course and opened negotiations," Catherine Perret of the hard-left CGT union told reporters.

The strike pits Macron, a 41-year-old former investment banker who took office in 2017 on a promise of opening up France's highly regulated economy, against powerful unions who say he is set on dismantling worker protections.

"We're going to protest for a week at least, and at the end of that week it's the government that's going to back down," said 50-year-old Paris transport employee Patrick Dos Santos.

The outcome depends on who blinks first - the unions who risk losing public support if the disruption goes on for too long, or the president whose two-and-a-half years in office have been rocked by waves of social unrest.

"NOISE IN THE STREETS"