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Unions threaten more protests as retirement bill enters final stage
As the dust settles after more than a week of protests, how will events unfold as the government finalises its moves to raise the retirement age?
The eight main French unions are meeting Thursday to discuss their strategy for continuing their opposition to government plans to raise the retirement age.
The organisations have been at the forefront of the largely peaceful campaign to prevent the government from unilaterally imposing the new law raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62.
On Thursday morning Bernard Thibault (photo), leader of the powerful CGT union, called for further days of protests, likely to take place on October 26.
“There is no treason at all to stop,” he told RMC Radio. “There is no other alternative while the government remains intransigent.”
"We need to continue with massive action as soon as next week," he added. "We will ask the unions for strong action that will allow people to stop work and go on to the streets."
The unions are in a position of considerable strength.
Firstly, they have demonstrated an ability to mobilise a huge number of supporters and have the backing of some 70% of the population (according to polls conducted last week).
Furthermore, one important precedent which continues to give the unions heart was the reversal of a 2006 law on work contracts that would have given employers greater flexibility but left new employees with less job security.
That law, put forward by then Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, had been approved by the Senate but was nevertheless withdrawn after massive protests.
But so far the government has refused to budge in the face of union demands.
Sarkozy insists that he will not back down and is determined to push through the controversial law as quickly as possible. And it may not be as easy as in the past weeks to gather demonstrators at this crucial time.
The unions have the problem of the ten-day half term holiday which begins on Friday.
Not only will less activists be available, but the continued fuel and road blockades will likely not go down well with families embarking on their holidays.
There is also the issue of fringe activists beyond union control who have been engaging in violent confrontations with police, which has undermined the unity and credibility of the protest movement.
Nailing the law to the door
France’s upper house of parliament, the Senate, is busily hammering out the last amendments to the law and should be in a position to vote it in – as is highly expected – by the end of the week.
Once that is done, a cross-parliamentary committee made up of seven MPs and seven senators will be created in order to finalise the text.
This final text will be subject to a further vote in both houses – the National Assembly and the Senate – before the end of the month.
The opposition Socialists, as they are entitled, will undoubtedly demand that the law is examined by the French Constitutional Court before its adoption.
The Constitution Court would have to submit its findings within a month.