Nationwide strikes and rallies against pension reform have caused major traffic disruptions and paralysed oil refineries and universities in France, after trade unions called for the country to be brought “to a halt.”
As the latest wave of protests against the government’s plan to raise the retirement age to 64 from 62 entered their sixth day, trade unions announced that “more than two million people” would take part in rallies on Tuesday. For comparison, on January 31, the biggest day of demonstrations so far, some 1.27 million took part, according to official figures.
Marches started in the early morning across the country, with crowds blocking major higher education establishments including Rennes II University and Lyon II University, according to footage on social media and local media reports.
Protesters erected barricades in front of a bus depot in La Roche-sur-Yon, a city in western France. Students also blocked a bus depot at Saint-Denis Pleyel, near Paris, before being pushed back by security forces.
At least 100 people blocked the RN 24 highway connecting Rennes and Lorient in western France, according to student organization Le Poing Leve (The Raised Fist). The group claimed the police used tear gas to disperse the gatherings.
The trade union organization CGT-Chimie said fuel shipments had been blocked at the exits of “all refineries.” The management of oil major TotalEnergies confirmed to AFP that it had been affected, but said there was “no shortage of fuel” at its stations.
Trade unions have also warned of strikes on public transport. On Monday SNCF, France’s national state-owned railway operator, and RATP, the transport operator in Paris, confirmed that the movement of trains in France would be “very severely disrupted,” while metro operations would also be disrupted.
Meanwhile, the French General Directorate of Civil Aviation has requested that airlines reduce scheduled flights by 20% and 30% at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris, respectively.
Unrest against pension reform has been escalating for several weeks now. While French President Emmanuel Macron has described the initiative as “essential” due to projected deficits in the pension system over the next 25 years, it has proved deeply unpopular among the public, with almost 60% opposing the reform, according to an Elabe poll.