Historic social mobilization in France on International Workers’ Day

Hundreds of thousands of French people took to the streets of the country’s main cities to commemorate the date, which converges with social discontent over the recent approval of President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform. Foreign union leaders participated in the demonstrations on Monday and the eight French labor unions joined for the first time in 14 years.

Demonstrations for International Workers’ Day advance in France. A day of massive protests that combines the commemoration of the date with social unrest over the pension reform, which raises the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. A proposal approved by decree by President Emmanuel Macron and ratified by the Constitutional Chamber in a ruling delivered on April 14.

Paris, Nantes and Lyon are the cities that concentrate the attention of the police forces due to the large number of protesters in the streets. The first incidents were recorded in these three cities and the police responded with tear gas against some groups of people.

Although the mobilizations have been massive, the number of participants is a matter of debate between the unions and the police.

According to preliminary data from the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), one of the main unions in France, 550,000 people have taken to the streets of Paris and around 2.3 million across the country. But the Ministry of the Interior qualified these figures and reported that 782,000 citizens marched throughout the territory, including 112,000 in Paris, where more than 60 demonstrators have been arrested.

In Nantes, the unions that called for the mobilizations affirm that 80,000 people have participated, while the police count just over 17,000. And at least 14 protesters have been arrested amid riots in that city. While in Lyon some shops were vandalized and several cars were set on fire.


President Emmanuel Macron has dismissed the reasons for the mobilization and ordered a strong security contingent. 5,000 police officers have been deployed in Paris and 12,000 in total on French territory. Likewise, the Administrative Court of the capital authorized the use of drones to supervise the demonstrations.

Historic day of protests

Beyond the number of protesters in the streets, this May 1 is symbolic for the French because it comes amid months of social tension due to the increase in the retirement age and the police repression of the Macron government against the protest.

A man is detained during a demonstration, Monday, May 1, 2023 in Paris.  Across France, thousands of people marched in what unions hope will be the country's biggest May Day demonstrations in years, mobilizing against President Emmanuel Macron's recent move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
A man is detained during a demonstration, Monday, May 1, 2023 in Paris. Across France, thousands of people marched in what unions hope will be the country’s biggest May Day demonstrations in years, mobilizing against President Emmanuel Macron’s recent move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. © AP – Thibault Camus

For its part, the CGT joined forces with union leaders from various countries such as Switzerland, Spain, Turkey, South Korea, Colombia and the United States to make a presence in the streets of Paris.

“I stand in solidarity with the French and I’m happy to be here today, in France, after all the strikes they’ve staged to preserve their pensions,” said David Huerta, representative of the SEIU-USWW union, present in the California services sector in USA.

This mobilization for International Workers’ Day is also unprecedented because the eight main French unions came together for the first time since 2009 to call the protests.

“This workers’ party will take place in the midst of union unity and that is already historic,” said Frederic Souillot, general secretary of the Force Ouvri union.andre (Worker Force).

Left and right leaders coincided in criticizing the French president and mobilized their bases on May 1. A convergence that represents a serious governance crisis for Macron.

However, some protesters denied having a political affiliation and chanted harangues against political leaders and opponents of Macron such as the national secretary of the Communist Party, Fabien Roussel.

Macron greets workers, but ignores protests

In his May 1 message, Emmanuel Macron posted a greeting to the workers via Twitter, but made no mention of the ongoing protests.

They get up early to feed us. They promote the know-how of our territories. You contribute to our sovereignty. On this first of May, to all the workers, thank you,” he wrote.

A week after celebrating his first year as president-elect for a second five-year term, Macron faces social tension on the streets and political tension in the National Assembly, where he lost his parliamentary majority in June 2022 elections.

Its Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne sat down with union leaders and vowed to cut unemployment and green the industry in response to protest on the streets and in a bid to turn the page on controversial pension reform to others. state affairs. However, this strategy did not work and the unions abandoned negotiations with Borne after she refused to budge on the main measure of the pension reform, which was to delay her retirement age.

Almost 3 out of 4 French people are unhappy with Macron, according to a survey carried out last month by the IFOP group. But at the same time, social mobilization has lost some momentum in the recent strikes and demonstrations held during the work week, as workers seem unwilling to continue sacrificing wages by being absent from their jobs.

The Macron government still has a chance to negotiate with the unions. Laurent Berger, CFDT union leader, declared that not all talks between the unions and the government have been reached, even after the pension reform became law.

If invited, “the CFDT will go to talk like a union does in a company with a boss, even shortly after that boss has done a bitch to them,” Berger added.

However, it is not clear if a possible negotiation between the unions and Macron would help to calm the spirits since the main demand of the protesters is to repeal the pension reform, something that the president is not willing to do.

With AFP, Reuters and local media

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Written by Editor TLN

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