PARIS (AFP) – Demonstrators in France took to the streets on Saturday for a seventh day of protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plans, but turnout fell well short of projections at nationwide rallies.
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 deputy leader of the CFDT union Marylise Leon. “The endgame is now,” she told the Franceinfo broadcaster on Saturday. Tensions flared in the evening, with Paris police saying they had made 32 arrests after some protesters threw objects at security forces with rubbish bins burned and windows broken.
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.
The snub made unions “very angry”, said boss of the hard-left CGT union Philippe Martinez.
“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?”, he said, calling for a referendum on the pensions reform.
The interior ministry said some 368,000 people showed up nationwide for protests, which was less than half of the 800,000 to one million that police had predicted ahead of the demonstrations. In Paris, 48,000 took part in rallies, compared to police forecasts of around 100,000.
Unions, who put the attendance figure at a million, had hoped that turnout would be higher on a Saturday when most people did not have to take time off work to attend. On February 11, also a Saturday, 963,000 people demonstrated, according to police. At the last big strike and protest day last Tuesday, turnout was just under 1.3 million people, according to police; more than three million according to unions.
“I’m here to fight for my colleagues and for our young people,” said retired train driver Claude Jeanvoine, 63, 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.
Regional leader for the FSU union Marie-Cecile Perillat demonstrating in the southwestern city of Toulouse, said: “They’re beginning to feel the pressure, including in Parliament. We believe we can win, and we’re not going to give up.”
The reform’s headline measure is a hike in the minimum retirement age to 64 from 62, seen by many as unfair to people who started working young. Protesters say that women, especially mothers, are also at a disadvantage in the law.
“If I’d known this was coming, I wouldn’t have stopped working to look after my kids when they were small,” said 50-year-old childcare provider Sophie Merle in Marseille, southern France.