French Back in Streets as Pension Strikes Show No Sign of Ending 

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of France on Thursday as a record-breaking strike continued over proposed pension reforms — and with the government and unions still deadlocked over a compromise.Demonstrators packed the Place de la Republic in central Paris ahead of the march, waiving banners, listening to rock music and snacking on grilled sausage. Unions estimated this protest was the biggest since strike action began more than a month ago.  Demonstrators against the government’s pension reforms at the Place de la Republique in Paris, Jan. 9, 2020. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)“We are here because the whole country is against these … pension reforms.”Lawyer Pascale Korn joined other members of the Paris bar decked out in their traditional black gowns. She benefits from a private pension system, but fears proposed reforms will force lawyers like herself to pay much more into the general public pension fund.  “They are just trying to break everything we have in France,” Korn said.This is France’s longest strike since 1968. At issue for these angry protesters: government plans to overhaul the pension system, bumping up official retirement two years to 64 and reconciling myriad special plans into a single universal point-based system.  Members of the Force Ouvriere union, among those fighting the government’s proposed pension overhaul, Jan. 9,2020. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)In a new year’s address, President Emmanuel Macron called for a quick compromise to end the standoff between unions and the government, but so far that hasn’t happened.  For high school English teacher Karine Grosset Grange, the pension overhaul is the last straw in Macon’s broader set of reforms.  “They are destroying the system of health care, they are destroying all the social system that we have benefited from since 1945,” Grosset Grange said. “I don’t want a society where … only a few get a lot and the rest get we don’t know. This is not what our society was based on.”The strikes have shuttered schools, blocked oil refineries and seriously disrupted rail and public transport, choking Paris streets with cars, bikes and scooters as commuters find alternatives to get to work. While recent polls show most French believe the strike is justified, many now want it to stop.  One of the lawyers joining Thursday’s demonstration against pension reforms in Paris, Jan. 9, 2020. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)A few blocks from the Place de la Republic, chocolate salesman Pierre Maerten said he had seen a major drop in business since the strikes began last month. He walks 2½ hours most mornings to get to work.  Maerten thinks the strikers are basically taking people hostage and there are other ways to protest. He also believes the pension reforms are necessary to pay for France’s increasingly aging and longer-living population.   Other European countries have reformed their pension systems, Maerten said, without so much fuss. He believes the French have forgotten all the benefits they do have.The demonstration was good for the sausage grilling business in Paris, Jan. 9, 2020. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)  

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