The Nation, December 6, 2019
Emmanuel Macron’s latest bugbear: a million angry French citizens striking against his proposed pension reforms.
After a year of protests that dragged his popularity to record lows and forced significant concessions from his government, French President Emmanuel Macron might have thought twice before staking “Act Two” of his presidency on a well-established political minefield. But that would have been out of character for the famously high-handed leader. Undeterred by either the Yellow Vests or the massive strikes that confronted his predecessors, the self-styled “Jupiterian” president and his government are coming after one of the social goods the French hold most dear: their pensions.
Sure enough, it’s not going over too well. On Thursday, according to the Interior Ministry, more than 800,000 people (1.5 million according to unions) took to the streets across France as part of the largest strike movement the country has seen in nearly a decade. National rail and Paris public transit are all but shut down through the weekend, with nine of 10 high-speed trains canceled, seven of 10 trains canceled on regional lines, and only two of Paris’s 16 metro lines running normally. More than half of teachers walked out nationwide Thursday, a record since 2003.
“We have a government that’s trying to swindle us out of what the French people have won through struggle and strikes” over decades, says Sylvie, an aide at a public hospital just outside of Paris and member of the left-wing union group Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques. Hers is the sentiment driving the historic mobilization, which goes much deeper than pension reforms: Organizers hope to form a “wall” against Macron’s neoliberal agenda, borrowing a phrase from one of Macron’s own advisers.