France faced a seventh day of demonstrations on Saturday against President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular pension reform plans amid ongoing rolling strikes which have affected refineries, public transport and garbage collections.
A coalition of French unions, maintaining a rare show of unity since the protest movement was launched at the end of January, hopes to keep up to pressure on the government to withdraw the reform, whose key measure is a two-year extension of the retirement age to 64.
According to interior ministry figures, up to 1 million people are expected to take part in over 200 marches throughout the country while the Senate continues to review the reform, with a possible vote on the text from the upper house of the Parliament expected by Sunday night.
Demonstrations started at 10 a.m (0900 GMT) in the streets of major cities including Toulouse and Nice. A march in Paris is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.
On Tuesday, 1.28 million people took to the streets in demonstrations, the highest turnout since the start of the protest movement, according to government figures. Unions estimated the total at 3.5 million people.
Opinion polls show a majority of voters oppose Macron’s plan, while a slim majority supports the strike actions.
A TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) spokesperson told Reuters that the strikes continue in the oil major’s French refineries and depots, while public railway operator SNCF said national and regional services would remain heavily disrupted over the week-end.
In Paris, garbage continues to pile up on the streets, with residents mentioning a growing presence of rats, according to local media.
The right-leaning Senate, aligning with Macron’s centrist Renaissance party, should vote in favour of the pension reform but, in that case, the bill will then be reviewed by a joint committee of lower and upper house lawmakers, probably next week.
If the committee agrees on a text, a final vote on both chambers would likely occur but, in the lower house of the Parliament, where Macron’s party majority is relative, the outcome of such a vote still appears uncertain.
“A lot of things can still happen next week,” Marylise Leon, deputy secretary general of the CFDT union, the country’s largest, told Franceinfo radio. “Will the text be voted in the National Assembly? We have to rally. It’s now or never.”
An additional day of nationwide strikes and protests is planned for March 15.