Hundreds of thousands walk off in protest against the government’s plan to raise the pension age to 62.
Teachers, train drivers, and refinery workers in France are among those who have joined a nationwide day of strikes, as anger rages after the government announced plans to raise the pension age by two years to 64.
The protests are a major test for President Emmanuel Macron, who maintains that his pension reform plan – which is highly unfavourable in opinion polls, with 68 percent of people against an increase – is crucial for the economy.
French trade unions called for Thursday’s mass mobilisation. The last time they did that was 12 years ago, when the retirement age was increased from 60 to 62.
“We need a lot of people to join the protests,” Laurent Berger, head of France’s largest union, CFDT, told BFM TV.
“People are against this reform … we need to show it [in the streets].”
While French labour ministry estimates say retirement reform would bring in an additional 17.7bn euros ($19.1bn) in annual pension contributions, allowing the system to break even by 2027, unions say there are other ways to ensure the viability of the pension system, such as increasing taxes for the superrich.
For Macron, the pension plans put his reformist credentials at stake, both in the country and among his European Union peers, as a way to keep public spending down.
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, a journalist with The Telegraph, told Al Jazeera: “The feeling among the workers in France and the unions is [that] this reform is essentially pushing people to work longer, [and] they will not find jobs because in France [there are] unemployment problems.”
Moutet explained that despite the protests, the reform plan will most likely pass thanks to Macron’s deal with the main conservative party, Les Republicans.
Hundreds of thousands are rallying, including tens of thousands in the capital, Paris.
Paris’s public transport is being brought to a standstill and trains will struggle to run throughout France.
According to the main teachers union, 70 percent of primary teachers are striking as many schools close for the day.
“There’s nothing good in this reform,” said Rozenn Cros, in the southern French city of Cannes, as she and other teachers prepared to strike with banners including “No to 64”.
Macron’s last attempt at pension reform in 2019 was halted a year later when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe.