‘We won’t give up’: protesters defiant on day 36 of pension strikes

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A protester burns a flare during a rally against pension reform in Paris on January 9, 2020. © Alain Jocard, AFP

Defiant protesters took to the streets on Thursday for a fourth day of nationwide demonstrations against the government’s controversial pension reform plans.

In Paris 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 the gilets jaunes who came to show “solidarity” with opponents of the government’s pension reform.

As the strikes against President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reform entered their record-breaking 36th day, protesters’ resolve showed no sign of waning.

They gathered in their hundreds at the protest’s central venue in Paris, the Place de la République. 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 don’t want to die at work” read another.

“We’re not giving up. We’re going right to the end,” said Grégorie Vassaux, 46, a nurse, who added that he’d been galvanised into attending the protest by Macron’s ‘haughty” New Year’s Eve address, where the president vowed to press ahead with the reform.

“We need to show him that we’re here,” said Vassaux, “and that we don’t want this reform.”

“It’s right that we work – and it’s important that we contribute to our country’s economy,” said Vassaux, “but we have a right to 10-15 years, where we’re 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 I’m 67.”

The main sticking point of Macron’s 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 France’s 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. It’s not fair. I think it’s 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. She’s only been striking on protest days, when unions stage rallies across the country, but she’s feeling the effects of a lower income.

“We’re not partying. We’re not shopping. We’re living on pasta,” she laughed. “But it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s called having a political conscience.”

Train drivers from the RER B line, which connects the capital with its international airports, had a kitty to encourage people to support them.

“I’m more motivated than ever before”

“We’re 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.

“It’s not necessarily the wealthy who give to our kitty – it’s often students and people who are struggling themselves.”

“We need to show the government that we won’t give up, that we’re here in the street and that he [Macron] needs to listen to us.”

“I don’t know if we’re at the beginning, the middle or the end of this protest movement,” said Archet. “What I do know is that we won’t give up – and I’m more motivated than ever before.”

Source: France 24