Demonstrators march against the government's pension reform plan in Paris, on March 11, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

PARIS: Demonstrators in France took to the streets on Saturday for a seventh day of protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plans, with police expecting up to a million people at rallies nationwide.

Unions hope they can still force Macron to back down as parliament debates the draft law, with the National Assembly and the Senate moving towards a final vote as early as this month.

“This is the final stretch,” said Marylise Leon, deputy leader of the CFDT union. “The endgame is now,” she told the franceinfo broadcaster Saturday.

This week, Macron twice turned down urgent calls by unions to meet with him in a last-ditch attempt to get him to change his mind.

“When there are millions of people in the streets, when there are strikes and all we get from the other side is silence, people wonder: What more do we need to do to be heard?”, said Philippe Martinez, boss of the hard-left CGT union.

“This country’s leaders need to stop being in denial of this social movement,” said CFDT head Laurent Berger on Saturday.

Police said they expect between 800,000 and one million people at 230 planned demonstrations across France, of which up to 100,000 were likely to march in Paris.

It was the second protest day called on a weekend, with unions hoping that demonstrators would show up in greater numbers if they did not have to take a day off work.

‘Future of children’

“I’m here to fight for my colleagues and for our young people,” said Claude Jeanvoine, 63, a retired train driver demonstrating in Strasbourg, eastern France.

“People shouldn’t let the government get away with this, this is about the future of their children and grandchildren,” he told AFP.

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CFE-CGC labour union's General Secretary Gerard Mardine (left), French CFE-CGC union president Francois Hommeril, French CFDT union national secretary Marylise Leon, French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) union's general secretary Laurent Berger, CGT General Secretary of the Union Regionale Ile-de-France Valerie Petit Lesage, French CGT union general secretary Philippe Martinez and French Union syndicale Solidaires (SUD) union co-general delegates Murielle Guilbert take part during the demonstration. Image Credit: AFP

At the last big strike and protest day on Tuesday, turnout was just under 1.3 million people, according to police, and more than three million according to unions.

Several sectors in the French economy have been targeted by union calls for indefinite strikes, including in rail and air transport, power stations, natural gas terminals and rubbish collection.

On Saturday in Paris, early indications were that urban transit was little affected by stoppages, except for some suburban train lines.

The capital’s main demonstration was to start around two pm (1300 GMT).

The French Senate, meanwhile, early Saturday resumed debate of the reform whose headline measure is a hike in the minimum retirement age to 64 from 62.

Senators have until Sunday evening to conclude their discussions, and a commission is then to elaborate a final version of the draft law which will be submitted to both houses of parliament for a final vote.

Should Macron’s government fail to assemble a majority ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne could deploy a rarely-used constitutional tool, known as article 49/3, to push the legislation through without a vote.

An opinion poll published by broadcaster BFMTV Saturday found that 63 percent of French people approve the protests against the reform, and 54 percent were also in favour of the strikes and blockages in some sectors.

Some 78 per cent, however, said they believed that Macron would end up getting the reform adopted.