France Travel: Chaos Expected In Significant Week Of French Strikes

At work, across bus and train stations, in cafes and bars, it is all anyone is discussing—who thinks people should work longer and who should be allowed to take retirement earlier?

France is entering a new month of planned strikes against President Macron’s proposed pension reforms—at a time when the alpine holiday season is in full throttle.

On Tuesday 7 February, most of the country will be affected by the third non-consecutive day of mass walk outs since mid January, each one bringing the country to ever increasing standstills.

On January 19, for the first time in 12 years, all the unions decided to strike on the same day and a staggering one million people took to the streets to protest, more than expected. Such a turnout encouraged multiple unions to continue strike action.

One week later, on 31 January, Bloomberg reported on how the country was hit by significant transport chaos from another day of strikes. Air France cancelled one in ten short- and medium-haul flights because of staff shortages. Likewise the rail network was heavily affected from that Monday to Wednesday with many long-distance TGV trains cancelled or delayed.

This time, the highest recorded turnout was estimated at 2.8 million people hitting the streets in protest across France (the police put it at a rather more modest 1.3 million). Regardless, for the organisers and major unions, the movement is gaining rather than losing traction.

Unions representing workers in ski resorts called strikes to begin on 31 January but also to continue into February, calling into question the holiday season that has just begun across France and for many Europeans hoping to hit the French ski slopes.

This week, there are two planned days of strikes on February 7 and 11, a rarity in a country that loves to protest—everything from transport networks to schools are expected to be impacted.

Anyone planning to travel in and across France this week should plan longer for journeys and think about alternative routes—if they travel at all. SNCF, France’s state-owned railway carrier, said in a statement it was expecting severe disruption.

People are protesting against President Macron’s plan to reform and simplify the pension system, which notably involves raising the age of retirement in a staggered fashion from 62 to 64 years of age. The French pension system is in deficit and these plans would save €18 billion annually for the country.

Whilst Macron was elected on a promise of pension reform, he put it on hold during Covid after months of yellow vest protests across the country and many are questioning the pursuit of the policy again now in the midst of a cost of living crisis.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne offered a concession to other political parties (whose votes it needs to pass the reform), saying that some people would be able to retire at 63, a half-way point, if they had started work in their early 20s.

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