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French unions keep pressure on Macron

by Helene Fouquet Bloomberg News | December 29, 2019 at 4:00 a.m.

PARIS -- Labor unions called for marches and protests across France on Saturday as they seek to maintain momentum in their monthlong opposition to President Emmanuel Macron's overhaul of the pension system.

Protesters planned to gather at the Gare du Nord station in Paris to start one of the marches, while the CGT union's railroad branch said they will block a train station in the ski resort of Chambery. In Nantes, unions said the strike in public transportation would be open-ended.

Protesters plan to take action including blocking fuel depots and refineries or cutting power locally. Almost half of France's high-speed trains will be canceled as will several routes to the U.K., Belgium, Switzerland and Germany.

The strikes and demonstrations have entered a 24th day, longer than the 1995 opposition to the government's pension and health care changes. The record is the 28-day protest at the national railway SNCF in December 1986, according to RTL radio.

Unions oppose a pension-system overhaul that aims to merge 42 separate regimes into a single universal points-based system. It also offers incentives to raise the age for full retirement benefits to 64 from 62.

A nationwide day of demonstrations is planned for Jan. 9 and other forms of opposition are being sought to expand the movement.

The unions pledged to keep the strike going through the New Year celebrations just like they did on Christmas. The action has created havoc in public transportation, hitting commuters in Paris and its suburbs the hardest. Traffic in the capital city has been chaotic, complicating access to airports during the holiday season.

For Macron, there remains a risk that the labor unions succeed in rallying the "Yellow Vests," the grass-roots movement that turned violent a year ago and required about $19 billion in public spending to calm. The government has already pledged to sweeten pensions for the police, army and firefighters and has indicated willingness to negotiate with other sectors.

The latest standoff threatens the French leader's ability to continue his work of "modernization," the cornerstone of the 42-year-old former investment banker's presidential platform.

A Section on 12/29/2019

Print Headline: French unions keep pressure on Macron

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