When the French took to the streets: Timeline

AFP , Friday 17 Mar 2023

France, where President Emmanuel Macron is facing intensified protests after forcing a contentious pension reform through parliament without a vote, is no stranger to mass demonstrations.

French protest
French Police look on as Railway sector union members and protesters stand on the tracks during a demonstration a day after the French government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote, using article 49.3 of the constitution, at the train station in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on March 17, 2023. AFP


AFP takes a look at some of the biggest or most spectacular since 1995:

December 12, 1995: austerity

On December 12, 1995, 2.2 million public sector strikers demonstrate across the country, according to the trade unions, (one million according to the interior ministry) over Prime Minister Alain Juppe's social security reform plan.

Juppe is forced to abandon his reforms for pensions but sticks to the rest of his plan, including increases in social security contributions.

May 13, 2003: pension reform

From February to early June 2003 a series of public sector strikes against a pension reform bill culminates in a May 13 demonstration, the biggest show of union muscle since 1995.

Authorities say 1.13 million people take part in demonstrations throughout the country. The unions put the figure at two million.

But the reform goes ahead.

March 28, 2006: youth jobs contract

Government plans for a new youth jobs contract sparked massive student protests, with three million demonstrating on March 28, according to organisers. The interior ministry puts the turnout at 1,055,000. The plan is dropped in April.

October 12, 2010: retirement age

President Nicolas Sarkozy's bid to raise the legal retirement age from 60 to 62 sparked months of rolling strikes and protests.

Protest numbers peak at 3.5 million on October 12.

The interior ministry puts the turnout at 1.23 million.

Blockades at oil refineries, fuel depots and port terminals leave one in three service stations dry.

Parliament goes on to adopt the reform.

November 17, 2018: yellow vests

A protest movement started by motorists angry over fuel tax hikes balloons into a major nationwide revolt against President Macron, mobilising 282,000 people, according to disputed official figures.

Protesters wearing high-visibility yellow vests demonstrate each Saturday in Paris and other cities for nearly a year, with protests often ending in rioting. Things boil over on December 1, when the Arc de Triomphe is daubed with graffiti and damaged.

Macron rushes through 10 billion euros (dollars) in tax cuts and income top-ups and crisscrosses the country to address voters' frustrations at a series of town hall debates that succeeded in taking the heat out of the protests.

December 5, 2019: Macron's first pension reform

In 2019, Macron's proposed overhaul of France's pay-as-you-go pension system, including increasing the minimum age for a full pension from 62 to 64, sparks weeks of union-led protests, including a six-week rail strike.

1.5 million turnouts on December 5, according to the hardline CGT union. The interior ministry says about 806,000 took part.

When the coronavirus pandemic hits, Macron puts the reform plan on hold.

March 7, 2023: Macron's second reform

Protests also greet Macron's latest plan to reform the pension system, also pushing the legal retirement age up to 64 from 62.

A record 1.28 million turnout for a sixth day of protests on March 7, according to the interior ministry and 3.5 million according to the CGT union.

Unable to obtain enough support in parliament for the plan, the government on March 16 invokes a controversial executive power that enables it to impose the pension overhaul without a vote, sparking angry demonstrations nationwide.

Paris refuse workers are among the strikers and by Friday 10,000 tonnes of waste were lying uncollected in the streets of the French capital.

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