France paris protest pension strike
Protesters hold placards, including one reading "general strike, combat union" with the logo of the Unionists of the National Convention of Workers (CNT) trade union (L) during a demonstration on the 12th day of action after the government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote, using the article 49.3 of the constitution, in Nantes, western France on April 13, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: Union activists barged into the Paris headquarters of luxury goods company LVMH on Thursday, saying the French government should shelve plans to make people work longer for their pension and tax the rich more instead.

In a 12th day of nationwide protests since mid-January, striking workers also disrupted garbage collection in Paris and blocked river traffic on part of the Rhine river in eastern France.

“You’re looking for money to finance pensions? Take it from the pockets of billionaires,” said Sud Rail unionist Fabien Villedieu, as the LVMH headquarters filled with red smoke. The protesters then left peacefully.

Trade unions urged a show of force on the streets a day before the Constitutional Council’s ruling on the legality of the bill that will raise the state pension age by two years to 64.

If the Council gives its approval, possibly with some caveats, the government will be entitled to promulgate the law, and will hope this will eventually put an end to protests, which have at times turned violent, and coalesced widespread anger against Macron.

Demonstrators briefly blocked an access road to the Council with rubbish bins, hanging a banner across the street reading “Constitutional Censorship”.

The industrial action has lost some steam and the protests have rallied thinner crowds in past weeks compared with the more-than 1 million-strong numbers seen earlier in the movement.

france paris protest
Anti-riot policemen clear protesters in Paris on April 13, 2023, during a demonstration on the 12th day of action after the government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote, using the article 49.3 of the constitution. Image Credit: AFP

But unions remained defiant.

“This is certainly not the last day of the strike,” Sophie Binet, the new leader of the hard-left CGT union, said at blockade of an incinerator outside Paris.

‘We won’t give up’

Macron has said he will organise a meeting with unions after the Council’s decision to work on other proposals - an initiative union leaders say will be short-lived if he is not ready to discuss withdrawing the pension reform.

“After three months of mobilisation, I would lie if I told you that there is no fatigue. We are tired, but a mobilisation is like a marathon,” Sud Rail’s Villedieu said. “We won’t give up.” Political observers say the widespread discontent over the government’s reform could have longer-term repercussions, including a possible boost for the far right.

“I’m not that optimistic about the Constitutional Council’s decision,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who opposes the pension legislation, told BFM TV. “But what do you want me to do? Burn cars? We’ll just tell the French: Vote for the National Rally.” Macron and his government argue the law is essential to ensure that France’s generous pension system does not go bust.

Unions say this can be done by other means.

“The president of the republic is completely disconnected from the preoccupations of workers,” the head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, told reporters ahead of the Paris rally.

Earlier this week, refining operations resumed at TotalEnergies’ Gonfreville refinery, France’s largest by barrels-per-day, the last of the company’s domestic refineries to restart after a month-long shut down.

Some deliveries of refined products from two of those sites were disrupted on Thursday, a TotalEnergies spokesperson said.

On the Rhine river, cargo traffic was disrupted after workers cut power at a waterway lock near the border with Germany and Switzerland and run by France’s state-owned energy company EDF, a union official told Reuters.