- demonstrations - France - Reform
Anti-reform activists push on despite waning support
Despite having lost their battle in parliament last week, some 375,000 (French interior ministry) pension reform protesters – the lowest number yet – took to the streets of France on Saturday to voice their ongoing discontent.
AFP - Hundreds of thousands of French protesters again took to the streets Saturday for what may be the last in a recent series of marches against President Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reform.
Parliament has already passed a fiercely contested law increasing the minimum pension age from 60 to 62, and French trade unions are no longer united in calling for more street protests, so the movement appears to be fading.
According to the interior ministry, around 375,000 people marched in rallies around the country, compared with 560,000 which had done so on the last big day of protest on October 28.
The powerful CGT labor union estimated the numbers of protesters nationwide at 1.2 million, down from its tally of nearly two million at the late October rallies.
The largest march, in Paris, drew about 28,000 people according to police, while CGT claimed the marchers numbered about 90,000.
Nevertheless, union leaders insisted protests could yet force Sarkozy to agree amendments to the law before in comes into effect.
While the numbers were down, they "should not lessen our determination to act against this law," said CGT leader Bernard Thibault, shortly before the Paris march got under way.
Sarkozy's ministers have said they are ready to talk about some measures to soften the blow of longer years of pension payments for some workers, but the president insists raising the minimum pension age is "essential".
Other labour leaders appear ready to concede on this point.
"If I said today 'We're going to force the president to back down' no-one would believe me. People would say, 'That guy there, he's dreaming'," admitted Francois Chereque, leader of the large CFDT union.
For his part, FO union leader Jean-Claude Mailly criticized "a certain mess in the way this movement has been conducted," by the unions.
Saturday's marches are the eighth in a series of large-scale days of protest, but a series of parallel strikes in the oil industry and other key sectors that once threatened to paralyse the economy has now ended.
Previous protests have been well supported, drawing around a million demonstrators each time according to the police, or between two and 3.5 million according to trade union estimates.
Still, opposition Socialist Party leader Martine Aubrey insisted the protests could still resonate even if their nature might change following passage of the pension bill.
"The page of this reform has not been turned, it continues to be written," said Aubrey, who marched in the northern city of Lille Saturday, where she is mayor.
Opinion polls show a majority of French voters support the protests, and Sarkozy's approval rating has dropped to a new low of less than 30 percent.
Unions leader have said there will be a new day of mobilisation between November 22 and 26, but they have yet to decide what form it will take and there are signs that their coalition is cracking.
The government's reform will see the pension age rise to 62 by 2018, a move Sarkozy claims will save tens of billions of euros at a time of soaring budget deficits and rising life expectancy among retirees.