Large protests are expected in France on Tuesday, particularly in Paris but also in other cities, as people once again take to the streets to reject President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to overhaul the country’s pension system.

The demonstrations come amid continuing strikes, which for the past six days have paralyzed part of the country’s transportation network and made commuting, especially in Paris, increasingly difficult.

Around 800,000 to 1.5 million people protested around France last Thursday, a turnout that bolstered labor unions and put pressure on the government.

Demonstrators were marching at midday on Tuesday in cities like Marseille, Bordeaux, Rennes, Lille and Lyon.

In Paris, a large march is scheduled to leave Place Vauban, on the Left Bank near the Invalides, in the afternoon and make its way to Denfert-Rochereau, a square best-known by tourists as the entrance to the Catacombs of Paris.

Shops in the area were closed or boarded up amid fears of the violence that sometimes occurs during marches, and about 6,000 police officers were being deployed to secure the demonstration.

The protests have also tapped into existing anger with Mr. Macron, a year after the start of Yellow Vest protests that portrayed him as arrogant and disconnected from the lives of ordinary people.

Labor unions want to turn up the pressure on the government before Wednesday, when Prime Minister Édouard Philippe is scheduled to unveil details of the new pension plan.

Jean-Paul Delevoye, a politician whom Mr. Macron has put in charge of a report on pension changes, said on Monday that the government would continue to consult with unions until January. It was not clear whether that would influence whatever legislation is finally put on the table.

Tuesday was the sixth consecutive day of strikes in France that have thwarted commuters, kept children home from school, shuttered museums and left some government services closed.

“No improvement today” was splashed across television screens on Tuesday morning.

The start of the strikes last week had been anticipated for days, even weeks, and many people worked from home or took a day off. But that is becoming harder with each additional day of striking, putting increased pressure on the government to find a solution.

Public transportation has been hit the hardest, especially in Paris, where the dense bus and metro network that is usually efficient has nearly ground to a halt.

Of Paris’s 16 metro lines, only lines 1 and 14, which are automated, are fully operational. A handful of others are functioning briefly during rush hour. On Tuesday, only a quarter of the buses were running.

Long lines, crowded platforms and jostling crowds have become the norm for commuters, especially for those coming from the Paris suburbs, for whom it is much harder to switch to bikes, electric scooters or long walks to get to work.

Transilien, the suburban train network serving Paris and the surrounding region, carries 3.5 million people a day. But with service severely curtailed by the strike, “we can’t absorb everybody,” Alain Krakovich, the head of the system, told Franceinfo radio on Tuesday. “The situation will be difficult until the end of the week.”

“That is why for the past three days we have been calling upon travelers to not come to the stations,” he said. “I am aware that it is complicated, I understand that people need to work, to go to the doctor, but it is also a question of security.”

Many train stations around France remained almost empty. On Tuesday, France’s national railway company estimated that only one in five trains would be running.

More people are using their cars, snarling traffic. On Monday, traffic jams in the Ile-de-France region, which is centered around Paris, totaled over 400 miles.

Dozens of union demonstrators assembled in the chilly morning air behind the gold-domed Saint-Louis des Invalides Cathedral on Tuesday in one of Paris’s most chic districts, the starting point for the march.

Sound trucks of the leftist CGT union blared fragments of speeches from President Emmanuel Macron against a thumping bass. Sinister images of the French leader, emerging from flames or brandishing pistols against the words “Our rights, burned and pillaged!” or “Macron, agent of the CAC 40” — the French equivalent of the Dow Jones average — were plastered on the vehicles.

Sacks of baguettes to feed the protesters were piled on tables, and union workers were cleaning a big electric grill. Mourad Lafitte, an official in the printers’ union, stared up at the church dome and wondered how much gold it contained.

“Give me six months to get it down,” he said. “That’s my retirement right there.”

The demonstrations were going to be big, he thought — maybe not the 800,000 of last week, but still sizable. “There are whole professions that are extremely angry,” he said — teachers, hospital workers. “Everybody has had it up to here.”

Nearby, a hospital worker wore a mock scrub with the words “Macron, we want (hospital) beds!” A “Revolutionary Left” stand distributing buttons and fliers was emblazoned with the slogan “Macron get lost!”

“The discontent is very deep. Going on strike is not easy,” said François Sikirdji, a retired music teacher. “I lost a third of my purchasing power when I retired.”

An air of tension hung over central Paris on Tuesday morning as police officers braced for what was to come and some people tried to leave the area.

Officers tried to regulate worsening traffic at major intersections, hoping to avoid the kind of jams that have already gripped parts of the city.

On the Rue des Archives, Yateeha Krishan, a 27-year-old from Sri Lanka, had finished her morning shift cleaning offices in the city center and was wondering how to get home to her suburb northeast of Paris. She had arrived at work 45 minutes late, she said, adding that she doesn’t get paid if she doesn’t show up on the job.

Nearby, Christelle Akélé, 33, a preschool teacher’s assistant, was waiting for a bus to take her to the northern edge of Paris, where her school is. Over the past few days she had taken time off to avoid transit strikes, but she said that was no longer possible.

Ms. Akélé, who lives in Athis-Mons, a suburb about a dozen miles south of Paris, said she had managed to get an express train into Paris, and then a bus, but had now been waiting for over an hour and a half for a second one.

Still, Ms. Akélé was calm, and expressed sympathy for the strikers. “I can understand, they have reasons to go on strike,” she said.

The strikes’ major focus is President Emmanuel Macron’s bid to unify France’s complex web of 42 pensions schemes into one point-based system — a central policy proposal of his 2017 election campaign.

But over the past months he has mostly let the government and the prime minister, as well as a specially appointed pensions chief, do most of the work of negotiating, presenting and defending the overhaul.



Source link