Striking workers blocked passengers from boarding one of the few functioning metro lines in Paris on Monday on the 19th day of nationwide strikes over the government’s plans to raise the retirement age to 64.
The wildcat protest spilled onto the streets around the Gare de Lyon station, drawing a police response.
The government is negotiating with unions about the reforms, which President Emmanuel Macron has championed to keep the state pension system financially sustainable. Unions say it threatens the idea of the welfare state.
At least seven Paris metro lines were closed on Monday, RATP said, while the country’s rail service remains “highly disrupted” with 2 out of 5 trains running, and 1 Paris regional train out of 5.
Macron on Saturday called for a Christmas “truce” in the strikes, which have paralysed France for weeks.
“There are moments in the life of a nation when it is good to observe a truce to respect families”, Macron said in a press conference during a presidential visit to the Ivory Coast, adding he hoped for “common intelligence” on the situation.
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has said that the government was still committed to overhauling the country’s pension system after talks with the heads of trade unions to end 17 days of strikes.
The head of France’s powerful CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said after the talks on Thursday evening that there was “nothing new” and a “day of action” would now take place on January 9.
The reforms could see the retirement age raised from 62 to 64 and end a lucrative pension system for French transport workers, who can currently retire at just over 50.
Commerce takes a hit
Retailers have reported a 25% to 30% drop in turnover in the Paris region in the last week, according to Procos, the specialist trade federation.
The Conseil du Commerce de France (CdCF) has calculated a 20% drop in activity in the Paris region across all sectors combined, with trades particularly affected: perfumers, toy stores, chocolate makers.
However, “in the large provincial towns, activity is continuing, not in a euphoric way of course, but it is stable,” said William Koeberlé, the organisation’s president.
The hotel and restaurant industries have been hit particularly hard, with turnover for hotels down 30%, cafes down 40% and restaurants down 45%, according to a survey of the GNI-Synhorcat union, its spokesman Franck Trouet said.
The situation is particularly “catastrophic in Paris”, according to Franck Delvau, co-president for Paris and the Ile-de-France region of the Union des métiers et industries de l’hôtellerie (Umih). “Not only will there be no more events, conferences, seminars between now and the end of the year, but there is a new phenomenon: we no longer have any bookings at all.”
What does the public think?
A poll suggested 66% of the public support the introduction of a universal pension system putting an end to special schemes, which is the basis of the reform proposed by Macron.
However, 54% support or have sympathy for the trade unions and youth organisations leading the strikes, according to the Ipsos poll for CNews and Sud Radio.
Furthermore, 61% do not approve of the equilibrium retirement age of 64, the issue at the centre of the battle between the strikers and the government.