More than 1.2 million protesters marched in France on Tuesday as rail workers and refinery staff began rolling strikes and trade unions stepped up their campaign to try to stop Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the pension age to 64.
For the sixth time since the start of the year, trade unions called a nationwide day of strikes and demonstrations. Many protest rallies attracted bigger crowds than previous ones organised since mid-January, including in Marseille, one of France’s biggest cities, authorities and local media said.
“The idea is to bring France to a standstill,” said Fabrice Michaud of the railway workers’ branch of the CGT trade union.
Rail unions called for rolling, open-ended strikes, which could affect all national trains as well as international routes including the Eurostar. Bin collectors and truck drivers joined the action.
Refinery and energy workers also took part in strikes. The CGT union said fuel deliveries from refineries across France had been blocked from Tuesday morning, which could see petrol stations running short if the protests continue.
Macron’s proposals to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and increase the number of years of work required to claim a full pension are being debated in the French senate.
The government is determined to press on with the pensions changes, and its spokesperson said there were more important issues facing the country than the strikes, such as the cost of living crisis.
“I can understand that not many people want to work two more years, but it’s necessary to ensure the viability of the system,” the prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, told France 5 TV.
An Ifop poll for the Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche found that only 32% of French people supported Macron’s pension changes.
An Elabe poll found 56% of French people supported rolling strikes, and 59% backed the call to bring the country to a standstill.
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