Hundreds of defiant protesters took to the streets of Paris on Thursday for a fourth day of nationwide demonstrations against the French governments controversial pension reform plans.
They came by bike, by scooter and on foot. There were train drivers, teachers, doctors and lawyers. Grey skies and rain showers did little to deter a sea of orange vests from the hardline CGT union, or Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) who came to show “solidarity” with opponents of the governments pension reform.
As the strikes against French President Emmanuel Macrons controversial pension reform entered their record-breaking 36th day, the protesters resolve showed no sign of waning.
They gathered in their hundreds at Pariss protest central, the Place de la République. And just after 2pm – to the sound of klaxons, whistles and cheers, the raucous crowd began marching along the Boulevard de Magenta.
A group of drummers from the CGT union made their presence known. Drivers from the RATP sang songs about solidarity and a group of lawyers cried for Macron to “recule” (back off). Some let off plumes of pink smoke.
“Macron is the king of bla bla but the servant of capitalism,” said one placard. “I gave birth at work, I dont want to die at work” read another.
“Were not giving up. Were going right to the end,” said Grégorie Vassaux, 46, a nurse, who added that hed been galvanised into attending the protest by Macrons haughty” New Years Eve address, where the president vowed to press ahead with the reform.
“We need to show him that were here,” said Vassaux, “and that we dont want this reform.”
“Its right that we work – and its important that we contribute to our countrys economy,” said Vassaux, “but we have a right to 10-15 years, where were in more or less good health, where we can enjoy life and our kids a bit more. With these reforms I will have to work until Im 67.”
The main sticking point of Macrons planned pension reforms includes pushing back the retirement age at which retirees would be eligible for full pensions from 62 to 64. Unions say the measure would make millions of people work longer for less.
Other protesters claimed that unifying Frances 42 different pension schemes, some of which grant early retirement, into a single, universal points-based system, will widen the gap between rich and poor.
“Those who have a big salary will have a nice retirement,” said Violaine, 26, a teacher from outside Paris, “but those who are poor will stay poor. Its not fair. I think its extremely hypocritical. The government talks about equality and solidarity but in reality the reform brings neither.”
Taking a toll on salaries
Violaine admitted the strike was taking a heavy toll on her salary. Shes only been striking on protest days, when unions stage rallies across the country, but shes feeling the effects of a lower income.
“Were not partying. Were not shopping. Were living on pasta,” she laughed. “But its worth it,” she said. “Its called having a political conscience.”
Train drivers from the RER B line, which connects the French capital with its international airports, had a kitty to encourage people to support them.
“Were really touched to the bottom of our hearts by those who contribute to our kitty,” said Fabrice Archet, 46, a train driver from the RER B line, who said support from friends and family was keeping him afloat.
“Its not necessarily the wealthy who give to our kitty – its often students and people who are struggling themselves.”
“We need to show the government that we wont give up, that were here in the street and that he [Macron] needs to listen to us.”
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