French workers go on strike over proposed hike in retirement age

More than 1 million workers went on strike throughout France on Thursday in protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to raise the country’s retirement age from 62 to 64.

The strikes are taking place in Paris and multiple other cities, and French unions are calling for additional strikes to take place on Jan. 31 after seeing the widespread support the demonstrations received.

Macron has said the increase is necessary to ensure the country’s pension system remains financially stable, but unions have argued that it damages workers’ rights.

More than 200 protests occurred throughout France, disrupting transportation, schools and other public services. About a fifth of flights coming out of Paris’s Orly Airport were canceled, and most trains in the country were also paused.

The French Interior Ministry said more than 1.1 million people protested and 80,000 took to the streets in Paris. Unions put the numbers at more than 2 million overall and 400,000 in Paris.

The protest in Paris was largely peaceful, but riot police clashed with some protesters who allegedly threw objects at officers. Police used tear gas in some other minor incidents.

Macron said at a French-Spanish summit in Barcelona that the change needs to happen to “save” French pensions.

“We will do it with respect, in a spirit of dialogue but also determination and responsibility,” he said.

Everyone in France receives a state pension, and the country faces an aging population and a life expectancy that has grown.

Unions have argued that the government should impose a tax on wealthy individuals or employers should make additional contributions to payrolls to fund the pension system.

Macron’s government will present its bill on Monday, and the legislation will go to the Parliament next month. Opposition parties to Macron’s centrist alliance on the left and right are against the initiative, but Macron’s coalition is trying to gather enough support to get it through.

French workers previously organized in widespread protests during prior attempts at altering retirement in the country under former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and during Macron’s first term as president, but they have not been as large as they were on Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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