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A new round of strikes is increasing pressure over Macron’s pension reform

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France faced a third wave of nationwide strikes against a hugely unpopular plan by President Emmanuel Macron to make French people work longer before retiring, as the legislation begins its bumpy passage through parliament.

Rail services canceled, schools disrupted, refinery shipments ground to a halt as workers pulled out in multiple sectors, and unions urged once again took to the streets in droves.

The government says people must work more than two years – for most people that means until the age of 64 – in order to maintain the budget for one of the most generous pension systems in the industrialized world.

Polls have shown that the French spend the most years in retirement among OECD countries – a feature we cherish so much that the vast majority refuse to give up.

Labor Minister Olivier Dussopp dismissed opposition accusations that the government denied the scale of street protests across the country last month and said change was necessary.

“The pension system is taking losses, and if we care about the system, we must save it,” the minister told RMC Radio.

Philippe Martinez, leader of the hard-left CGT union, said Macron was playing a “dangerous game” in pushing ahead with a hugely unpopular reform at a time when households are facing soaring inflation.

Total Energy said shipments of refined petroleum products from its sites had been suspended due to the strike. Electricity production decreased by only 3.7 GW and data from grid operator RTE showed minimal imports in the energy mix.

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The government says the reform will allow for total savings of more than 17 billion euros ($18 billion) annually by 2030.

Unions and left-wing dissidents say the money can be found elsewhere, particularly from the wealthy. Conservative opponents, whose support Macron needs for a working majority in the National Assembly, want concessions for those who start working at an early age.

More than a million people demonstrated in cities across France during the first two days of the strike in January, with public pressure mounting on a government that insists it will stand on the grounds of major reforms.

In Parliament, there are more than 20,000 amendments in front of the legislators, the vast majority of which are the left-wing Nubian Alliance. However, since the reform is included in an annual Social Security bill, the government may send it to the Senate after only two weeks.

In a concession to the Conservatives, Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne has offered to allow some people who start working early to also retire early — but Les Republicains (LR) lawmakers are divided on whether the proposed starting age of 20-21 is low enough.

“People who start early, stop early. @Elisabeth_Borne is hard to understand,” O’Reilin Brady, one of LR’s critics of the current proposal, wrote on Twitter.

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