Yesterday saw rising tensions between the French government and unions opposed to pension reforms as the crippling transport strike that paralyzed the country entered its 11th day.
The French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT) union warned the government yesterday about calling for new actions in January in the case that the government does not drop a pension reform proposal, its leader announced.
France's CFDT is opposed to transport strikes over the Christmas period and had stayed out of the strike, which has caused travel chaos across the country since Dec. 5. But it said a "red line" had been crossed and called on members to join mass protests tomorrow.
In a major overhaul of its pension scheme, the French government has proposed that people work two years longer to get a full pension, drawing a hostile response from trade unions who said they would step up strike action to force an about-face.
The overhaul, unveiled this week by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, would do away with the 42 separate pension systems -- some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector employees such as train drivers, dockers and even Paris Opera employees.
The unions were angered further by Philippe’s proposal of a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of the new, so-called ‘’pivot age’’ of 64.
A massive protest was announced by strike organizers for tomorrow, as thousands are expected to take to the streets once again.
Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995 when they had forced Jack Chirac’s government to back down on pension reform after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before Christmas.
The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travelers worried that their holiday plans will fall through.
Speaking to the Parisien daily in an interview for its Sunday edition, PM Philippe claimed that the French would not accept being "deprived" of festive transport options.
"I can well see that everyone is worried as they see Christmas near. Christmas is an important time," he said.
On Friday, he asked SNCF chief Jean-Pierre Farandou to draw up a list of exactly which trains would be running during the festive season.
But the unions have said they will not give in – and that the government would have to.
"If the government wants the conflict to end before the holidays, they have all of next week to take the wise decision and scrap the point-based pension plan," Laurent Blum, the general secretary of the hardline CGT-Cheminots, the main SNCF union, told AFP.
If the government does not give ground, the CFDT will also call for industrial action in January, after Tuesday's strike, said Berger, who is not opposed to reform of the current pension system.
The PM has reportedly more scheduled negotiations with union leaders this week. However, he struck a combative note last Friday saying he "has absolutely no fear of implementing this reform."
President Emmanuel Macron's government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension-system deficits forecast to reach as much as 17 billion euros ($18.90) by 2025.
The average French person retires at just over 60 – years earlier than most in Europe.