Tens of thousands took to the streets, with union organisers estimating around 300,000 people turned out in Paris alone. Police put the figure at 33,500. Protesters brandished banners reading “Macron resign” and “No reform without a vote” as they marched through the capital, filling its wide boulevards as part of another day of strikes that have crippled France for over a month. In addition to Macron’s pension plans – which have been criticised for targeting low earners and forcing millions into retirement later – demonstrators were also protesting against his flagship “Le Grand Debates” initiative launched last year to defuse yellow vest protests over inequality. With many believing it did little to tackle underlying problems in French society and government policies, some carried signs saying: “The big debate did nothing but make us poorer!”
The government’s move has been met with widespread condemnation from trade unions, opposition parties and civil society actors who have accused Macron of trying to trample parliamentary democracy. As the crisis deepens, there are growing fears that it could spark a wider political upheaval with profound implications for France’s future. In addition to raising the retirement age to 62 – the lowest in Europe – Macron also wants to phase out certain pension benefits, including those enjoyed by retired workers in professions such as railway and metro employees, which critics say would amount to an “assault on social justice”.
Doneddu is one of the millions of French citizens protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s policies since November 2018. The grassroots movement has grown from a protest against fuel taxes to expressing widespread discontent with Macron and his government’s handling of France’s economy and social issues. The protests have become increasingly violent in recent months, with police clashing with demonstrators and several cities around the country experiencing riots. Despite this, Doneddu remains resolute: “We will keep fighting until our demands are heard because we can not accept such treatment anymore.” Other people also share Doneddu’s sentiment across Europe – from Brexit supporters in the UK to anti-austerity protesters in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal – all united by their dissatisfaction with their current governments’ policies that prioritize corporate interests over those of ordinary citizens.
However, the French president clarified that he would not back down on the pension reform despite widespread opposition among trade unions. He vowed to ensure his government’s plans are implemented, warning that “either we do what is necessary or we will have an explosion of public debt in coming years, and our ability to act will be severely hampered”. Macron said he was willing to amend some of the bills but refused to give in to demands for a complete overhaul. This has angered labor leaders who had hoped for more concessions from the government in light of their months-long protest actions.