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Mar 28, 2023
France Faces New Pension Strikes as Concerns Over Violence Mount
(Bloomberg) -- One of France’s most prominent union leaders said he had been invited by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to meet early next week to discuss the government’s pension reform plan that triggered a 10th day of nationwide protests Tuesday.
The government sent unions an emailed invitation to meet next Monday or Tuesday, the head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, told TMC TV network. “We will attend. We’ve discussed it among ourselves,” he said, citing conversations with other unions. “We think, collectively, that we need to go to bring our proposals.”
Borne’s office didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Borne’s willingness to speak with union representatives is in line with an offer President Emmanuel Macron suggested himself in a TV interview last week. However, it’s unclear where they might find common ground.
Unions have been urging Macron to hit the brakes on his unpopular pension reform, insisting opposition remains strong even as turnout dropped. Around 740,000 took part in marches across the country Tuesday, down from at least 1.09 million last Thursday, according to numbers from the Interior Ministry. Strike participation also declined.
For the French leader, backing down would raise questions over his pledge to balance the books and spur the labor market with pro-business reforms. The French Pension Advisory Council estimated the current system could cost the public finances at least 0.5% of GDP annually over the coming decade.
But pushing ahead by enacting the law risks a prolonged conflict and further splintering parliament, where he has already lost his absolute majority and relies on opposition lawmakers to pass texts in a conventional manner.
While scuffles broke out in Paris and other cities during protests on Tuesday, it appeared there was significantly less violence than in protests over the past week that ended in chaos, with hardcore fringes clashing with riot police.
Another round of strikes and protests is planned on April 6.
The president has attempted to appease the situation by promising to account more for workers in future reforms, including with a measure to force companies to share more of their profits when conducting share buybacks.
A defining image of the strikes has been the thousands of tons of trash piling up in the streets of Paris during a three-week strike by garbage collectors. However, the public services branch of the CGT union said the walkout would be suspended from Wednesday due to dwindling numbers.
--With assistance from Marie Patino, Valentine Baldassari, Caroline Connan and Jenny Che.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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