Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to take part in demonstrations across France on Saturday as protesters seek to keep up the pressure on the government over its plans to make people work longer before retiring.
After three days of nationwide strikes since the start of the year, unions are hoping to match a mass turnout from Jan. 19 when more than a million people marched in opposition to pushing the age to take a full state pension to 64 from 62.
“I am expecting a lot of people. We need to be extremely numerous,” Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT union, the country’s largest, said on Friday, adding that some 250 demonstrations were planned across the country.
“There is a form of contempt (from the government). There is no answer to the (social) movement and there needs to be one.”
The French spend the largest number of years in retirement among OECD countries – a benefit that opinion polls show a substantial majority are reluctant to give up.
President Emmanuel Macron says the reform is “vital” to ensuring the viability of the pension system.
In a joint statement on Saturday all the main unions called for the government to withdraw the bill. They warned that they would seek to bring France to a standstill from March 7 if their demands were not met. A strike is already scheduled for Feb. 16.
“If the government continues to remain deaf then the inter-union grouping will call for France to be shutdown,” they said ahead of Saturday’s marches.
The protests are the first on a weekend, when workers do not need to strike or take time off to march. They also come after the first week of debate on the pension legislation in parliament.
The opposition has suggested thousands of amendments to complicate the debate and ultimately try to force the government to pass the bill without a parliamentary vote and through decree, a move that could potentially sour the rest of Macron’s mandate. He was re-elected in April 2022 for five years.
Pushing back the retirement age by two years and extending the pay-in period would yield an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions, allowing the system to break even by 2027, according to Labour Ministry estimates.
Unions say there are other ways to do this, such as taxing the super rich or asking employers or well-off pensioners to contribute more.
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