PARIS (AP) — French train and metro drivers, refinery workers, garbage collectors and others held further strikes Wednesday against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age to 64, maintaining pressure on the government as senators debated the reforms.
New protest actions focused on women — and the retirement reform’s impact on working mothers — were expected, to coincide with International Women’s Day. Feminist activists see the pension reform as unfair to women, especially because they say it would further deepen gender inequalities.
A march called by women’s rights groups was scheduled Wednesday afternoon in Paris.
The reform would raise the minimum pension age from 62 to 64 and require 43 years of work to earn a full pension, amid other measures. The government argues that the current system is expected to dive into deficit within a decade as France’s population ages and life expectancy lengthens.
About 150 employees from the Louvre museum gathered Wednesday morning in the room where Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is displayed, brandishing a huge banner writing “No to working longer” in front of the iconic painting, a union statement said. They wanted to show “solidarity towards the women’s fight for their rights across the world” and denounce the pension plan’s impact on female workers, the statement said.
The Louvre museum said on its website that it is open to visitors but warned that some rooms are closed due to the protests.
The continuing strikes and protest action come after more than a million demonstrators marched in cities and towns across France on Tuesday, in what unions see as the biggest show of force against the planned changes since the beginning of the movement in January.
Unions demand the withdrawal of the reform. The bill is under debate in the Senate this week.
“We are aware that the effort required from the French does not win the support from a majority,” government spokesman Olivier Véran said Wednesday. “But we are convinced that alternatives — raising taxes, increasing the (state) debt, decreasing pensions — would not win more the support of public opinion.”
Opinion polls consistently suggest that most French voters oppose the pension plan.
Véran hoped Article 7 of the bill, which is focusing on raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, will be adopted by the Senate later on Wednesday. Talks at the upper house of parliament are scheduled to last until the end of the week.
On Wednesday morning, train traffic and the Paris metro remained severely disrupted.
The SNCF rail authority said only one high-speed train in three was expected to circulate across the country. Trains to Spain have come to a halt and some cancellations affect those to and from Britain and Belgium.
A fifth of flights have been canceled at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and about a third at Orly Airport.
Oil shipments in the country were halted for a second consecutive day amid strikes at the refineries of TotalEnergies and Esso ExxonMobil, according to the CGT union.
Paris garbage collectors also decided to continue the strike on Wednesday.
In addition, workers on strike were blocking access to ports in the southern city of Marseille and in Rouen and Le Havre, in the west.
Macron has vowed to go ahead with the bill, which he presents as key to his pro-businesses economic policies.
Left-wing lawmakers say companies and the wealthy should pitch in more to finance the pension system.
Unions have called for a new day of nationwide demonstrations on Saturday.
On Thursday, youth organizations representing students who haven’t even entered the workforce yet are seeking to mobilize young people to take to the streets to share concerns about retirement rights.
While the measure has a good chance of winning Senate approval, unions hope that strikes and protests force the government to make concessions as the bill continues its way through the complex legislative process.