Already beset by Yellow Vest protests, the French president faces renewed anger over proposed pension reforms.

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to face another big challenge to his leadership on Thursday as much of the country’s labour force goes on strikes.

The work stoppages will shut down parts of the country’s public and private sectors and are spurred by the free marketeer head of the state’s plans to reform the country’s pension system.

The strikes, which are being accompanied by street protests, come amid a year of near continuous Yellow Vest protests

Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration against French government's pensions reform plans in Paris as part of a day of national strike and protests in France, December 5, 2019.
Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration against French government's pensions reform plans in Paris as part of a day of national strike and protests in France, December 5, 2019. (Benoit Tessier / Reuters)

According to early estimates, the strikes will bring an almost complete halt to the country’s rail transport with at least 82 percent of drivers expected to participate in strikes. The government has already announced that 90 percent of regional trains are cancelled. 

Others joining the picket lines include teachers, students, police officers, air traffic controllers and garbage collectors.

The withdrawal of labour could represent the biggest strike of Macron’s presidential career.

“It’s the coalition of all frustrations, and it demonstrates the isolation of the elite, the isolation of the president, even the personal rejection of Macron,” Dominique Moïsi, a French political scientist, told the Washington Post.  

Since Macron came to power, he has effected a top-down management style, angering a great number of French citizens. 

Macron’s unpopular retirement plan aims to consolidate the country’s complex pension system, which is currently managed under 42 different schemes. 

Under the current system, a Paris Metro driver can earn $4,100 monthly after retirement, according to a July government report. In addition to its high pensions, in France, some railway labourers can retire at 52, making the country lowest in terms of average retirement ages in the developed part of the world. 

Private-sector labourers can retire at 62,  with pensions ranging from $1,400 to $1,600 on a monthly basis. 

According to Macron, bringing down this disparity in pension sums and retirement age is an economic priority.

France's President Emmanuel Macron is pictured as he holds a meeing with Poland's President Andrzej Duda (not pictured) at the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, Britain, December 4, 2019.
France's President Emmanuel Macron is pictured as he holds a meeing with Poland's President Andrzej Duda (not pictured) at the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, Britain, December 4, 2019. (Ludovic Marin / Reuters)

This autumn, Macron, who campaigned on a platform of reducing excessive public spending, said that he was trying to bring in a fairer system.

“It’s not right that you do the same work, and your neighbor retires earlier, the calculation is different,” the president said.

“So this has created suspicion in regard to our pension system, so today people find that it is more or less unfair, and more and more, people have doubts about it,” he added. 

However, many in the French working class believe that the reforms are a proxy by which Macron increases retirement ages and lowers pension amounts in a country with the lowest old-age poverty rates in the world. 

The strikes and protests could lead to a serious disruption in France, where the latest attempt to change the pension system was made in 1995 by centre-right President Jacques Chirac. 

After three weeks non-stop protests, a defeated Chirac backtracked from the overhaul of the system, leaving a disheartening precedent for his successors. 

Macron’s approval ratings hover around 30 percent but his En Marche party has a majority of seats in parliament. However, there is widespread cynicism directed at politicians.

According to a recent Ifop survey, 64 percent of people do not trust the government when it comes to the pension system despite 76 percent wanting reform of the system.

Another poll showed that 89 percent of French people thought that the country was in a state of “social crisis.” 

Source: TRT World