December 02, 2019
Will pension reform protests spiral out of control?
Three French trade unions called for an unlimited strike starting this Thursday. They promise to immobilise the country with planned strikes on the train and metro networks, roads, and airports as well as in schools, energy companies and hospitals. Will the trade unions be able to guarantee an orderly strike? Or will it become a cyclone of various grievances and explode on to the street, as Le Monde puts it?
Students already have said they will join in, accusing the government of inaction over rising poverty. The gilets jaunes are also preparing to go back on the streets again. These protesters will test Emmanuel Macron's determination to push through the pension reform. This is not about whether the reform is sensible or not. This is about testing his resilience. Macron gave in to pressure last year, offering a package worth €7bn. What will the bill be this time?
Big factors to watch out for are whether there will be violence, and how public opinion will react to the protests. At the moment polls show that the public is largely supportive of the pension reforms. But there is also strong backing for the strikes, about 46% versus 33%. The undecided 21% could tip the balance of public opinion. The government is gearing up its communication and its negotiations with trade unions to limit the strikes. But the fear among government staffers is palpable, as is the radicalisation the French society is currently undergoing.