Trade union leaders march in Paris on April 6, 2023 to protest French President Emmanuel Macron's attack on the country's pension system.

Trade union leaders march in Paris on April 6, 2023 to protest French President Emmanuel Macron's attack on the country's pension system.

(Photo: Adnan Farzat/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

'Either Trade Unions Win This, or It Will Be the Far Right': Labor Sees High Stakes in French Pension Fight

A new poll shows that Marine Le Pen would beat French President Emmanuel Macron in a head-to-head rematch, making the left's struggle against Macron's pension attack a struggle for democracy in France.

As French workers intensify their fight against President Emmanuel Macron's deeply unpopular plan to raise the nation's retirement age from 62 to 64, the stakes couldn't be higher.

A poll released Wednesday shows that reactionary lawmaker Marine Le Pen—leader of the far-right National Rally party, the largest opposition force in Parliament—would beat Macron by a margin of 55% to 45% in a head-to-head rematch. The neoliberal incumbent defeated Le Pen in a runoff election last April, but the openly xenophobic and Islamophobic challenger has gained significant ground since their first matchup in 2017.

The new survey was conducted after Macron advanced his planned retirement age hike through executive order on March 16. The president bypassed the National Assembly once it became clear that his legislative proposal did not have enough support to pass France's lower house.

"We're in the middle of a social crisis, a democratic crisis."

Macron's blatantly anti-democratic move provoked an uproar. The labor movement had already been staging weekly nationwide strikes and peaceful marches since mid-January. But the president's decision to circumvent a vote last month has brought more people to the streets, with heightened participation from high school and university students, some of whom have set up barricades on campus.

Progressive lawmakers and union leaders have urged the working class to keep up the pressure, portraying the left's struggle against Macron's pension attack as a struggle for democracy in France.

"Either trade unions win this, or it will be the far right," Fabien Villedieu, a representative of a railway trade union, told France Info radio on Thursday. "If you sicken people—and that is what's happening—the danger is the arrival of the far right."

Laurent Berger, head of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor, told RTL radio that "we're still asking for the reform to be revoked."

"We're in the middle of a social crisis, a democratic crisis," he added.

Macron has so far refused to withdraw his proposed pension overhaul, which includes raising the minimum eligible retirement age and increasing the number of years one must work to qualify for full benefits. France's constitutional council is evaluating the legality of the government's plans and is set to issue a decision next Friday.

According toThe Guardian:

The constitutional council, which has the power to strike out some or even all of the legislation, will assess the pension changes based on a strict interpretation of the law. Constitutional experts say the council is unlikely to strike the legislation down fully.

The government is playing for time, hoping protests and strikes will fizzle out. Unions want to show that the protest movement still has momentum, whatever the council's decision.

Hundreds of thousands of people have continued to rally across France in recent weeks. The government has responded with an increasingly repressive crackdown.

An 11th round of strikes on Thursday caused further disruption to schools, public transit, and energy production. In addition, clashes broke out "between demonstrators and police on the edges of protests in cities including Lyon, Nantes, and Paris," The Guardian reported.

Workers' anger is palpable and mounting.

"In the capital, protesters briefly set fire to the awning of the Left Bank brasserie La Rotonde, well known for hosting Macron's controversial evening of celebrations when he led the first-round vote in the 2017 presidential election," The Guardian noted.

Meanwhile, rat catchers threw dead vermin at city hall.

Also on Thursday, striking workers "forced their way into the building that houses BlackRock's office in Paris Thursday, taking their protest against the government's pension reforms to the world's biggest money manager," CNNreported. "About 100 people, including representatives of several labor unions, were on the ground floor of the building for about 10 minutes, chanting anti-reform slogans. BlackRock's office is located on the third floor."

Jerome Schmitt, a spokesperson for the French labor confederation SUD, told reporters: "The meaning of this action is quite simple. We went to the headquarters of BlackRock to tell them: the money of workers, for our pensions, they are taking it."

BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager with a nearly $9 trillion portfolio, has not been involved in Macron's assault on France's public pension system. But workers targeted the financial institution due to its role in overseeing the private pension funds that they may be forced to rely on.

"The government wants to throw away pensions, it wants to force people to fund their own retirement with private pension funds," one teacher toldReuters. "But what we know is that only the rich will be able to benefit from such a setup."

Le Pen, for her part, "has kept a low profile, hoping to increase her support among low-income workers, many of whom began their careers earlier and will be more greatly affected by the pension changes," The Guardian reported.

Earlier this week, left-wing luminaries alarmed by France's escalating repression of pension defenders as well as environmentalists campaigning against water privatization signed a Progressive International petition.

"We stand with the French people in the face of violent crackdowns on popular protest and the criminalization of dissent by Emmanuel Macron's government," it states. "The extreme violence of the police and the criminalization by the interior minister are clearly aimed at suppressing the movement against the pension cuts. This is an unacceptable attack on the democratic freedoms and human rights of French citizens."

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