Growing union pressure

The mobilization entered a new phase on Tuesday with the biggest protest to date – 1.28 million demonstrators, according to the authorities, and 3.5 million, according to the CGT – and with the start of extendable strikes.

The protest calls for the government to withdraw its plan to postpone the retirement age from 62 to 64 until 2030 and advance to 2027 the requirement to contribute 43 years (and not 42, as now) to receive the full pension.

After five large peaceful demonstrations in January and February, the unions decided to intensify their struggle, in the face of the Macron government’s and Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne’s refusal to back down.

The shares are focused on key sectors such as energy and transport. This Wednesday, unionists blocked the shipment of fuel from refineries, gas tanks and four methane terminals.

The important ports of Le Havre, Rouen and Marseille woke up blocked and workers on strike in the electricity sector continue to reduce electricity production, which fell by 13,000 MW the day before.

For the second consecutive day, there were cancellations of trains and planes, as well as interruptions in public transport in Paris, but on a smaller scale than the day before.

The unions called for new protests on Saturday and next week (probably Wednesday) and called for participation in the feminist marches this Wednesday and Thursday, at the request of youth organizations.

Countdown

Time is short. The government opted for a controversial parliamentary procedure – a rectifying project for the Social Security financing law – which limits the examination time and facilitates the application of the plan.

The two chambers of Parliament have until March 26 to adopt the same text. If they don’t talk, the government can implement its plan through an ordinance from then on, something that never happened.

The Senate (upper house), controlled by the right-wing opposition in favor of the reform, has until Sunday to vote on it. In turn, the mandate expired in the National Assembly (lower house), without effectively fulfilling it.

Next week, representatives of both houses should meet to try to arrive at a common text, on which deputies and senators should speak again or at least try to.

Macron seeks to buy time

With the countdown underway, the government is trying to buy time. Macron is playing off some of his political credit, especially as the pandemic has forced him to put an earlier, and also contested, pension reform in his first term on hold.

However, an editorial in the newspaper Libération this Wednesday considered “risky” the bet on “victory by attrition” and warned that “nothing indicates that [el gobierno] can count on a loss of momentum” from the protests.

The president, who faced a strong social response in 2018 and 2019 with the “yellow vests”, left Borne at the forefront and focused on crafting the post-reform agenda.

Education, health, climate, migration and institutions are some of the themes with which Macron wants to quickly leave the social security issue behind, once approved, and recover the momentum of his second term, which began in May.

The governing party counts on the support of the right-wing opposition, favorable to the reform, to approve it. This scenario would prevent the president’s “authoritarian” image from being reinforced if he applied his plan without a legislative majority.

Unions have tried to focus on Macron by asking him for an “urgent” meeting on Tuesday, to no avail. The presidency suggested that they knock on the door of its prime minister’s government, whose spokesman, Olivier Véran, assured that the ball is in Parliament.

However, the mills are determined to continue even if the reform is approved. In 2006, student protests forced the then government to withdraw an approved draft employment contract for young people.