Emmanuel Macron’s government has faced a new pulse in the streets with strikes and protests against his pension reform. French trade unions have achieved in this new “black Tuesday”, as some are already calling it, the largest mobilisation in demonstrations since the protests against the pension reform began in January, but the strikes did not achieve the paralysis of France, with which they hoped to force the Executive to reverse its controversial reform.
From early in the afternoon, the leaders of France’s two main central organisations, Laurent Berger (CFDT) and Philippe Martinez (CGT), claimed a “historic” mobilisation in the streets, above that of 31 January, which was the ceiling until now, and even at the highest level of the last 40 years in France.
In the absence of overall figures that would make it possible to say clearly whether the 1.27 million demonstrators (according to the police) or 2.8 million (according to the CGT) on 31 January were exceeded, partial figures from different cities suggest that they were.
The marches took place generally normally, although as usual some very small groups of radicals caused material damage and clashes with the forces of law and order, particularly in Paris, where the police had made 13 arrests by mid-afternoon.
The percentages of strikers fell short of some of the five previous days of protests, the first on 19 January, probably because with inflation and the consequent loss of purchasing power it is particularly painful to lose a day’s pay by going on strike.
The fact is that in the state administration about a quarter of the workforce went on strike, compared to 28 % on 19 January; and in the state company EDF it was 41.5 % compared to 44.5 % on 19 January.
In education, the Ministry of Education indicated that 32.71 % of teachers were absent from work, 35.89 % in primary schools and 30.09 % in secondary schools.
Beyond these percentages, the fact remains that very few trains ran (20 % on average of high-speed trains) and that air traffic controllers’ strikes forced 20 % of flights to be cancelled at Charles de Gaulle and 30 % at the other Paris airport, Orly, as well as at Beauvais, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Nantes, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice and Toulouse.
In addition, in several logistical centres and major transport hubs in France, lorry drivers blocked traffic and created traffic jams on the access roads to Lille, Perpignan, Rennes, Saint Brieuc and Cannes.
Although refineries continue to operate, as they cannot be shut down suddenly, production was reduced at several refineries. But blockades at the depots prevented fuel trucks from leaving. Even so, gas stations will not have supply problems, at least in the short and medium term.
Three of the four regasification units (two at Fos sur Mer, near Marseille, and the other at Montoir de Bretagne, near the port of Saint Nazaire) remained at a standstill, so that the liquefied gas that France imports by ship did not enter.
The future of the protests
The question for the unions now is the direction they are going to give to their protest, that is, whether they will try to continue and amplify the strikes or whether they will favour other days of demonstrations, with the intention that they will once again be massive, knowing that public opinion is very largely against the reform.
In public transport, the same programme of cuts will be repeated on Wednesday at the same airports as on Tuesday, but the impact of the strike will be much more moderate on the railways and urban transport in the big cities, starting with Paris.
The French National Railway Company (SNCF) said in a statement that it will have to cut two-thirds of its high-speed (TGV), regional and commuter trains on the capital’s two main lines.
On international lines, none will run on the Paris-Barcelona corridor, while a quarter will be cancelled on the Eurostar to London and a third on the Thalys to Brussels.
On the Paris metro, the two automatic lines, 1 and 14, will operate normally, and almost normally on line 4, which is in the process of being automated. On most of the other lines, there will be between a third and a half of the usual convoys.