Pension protest third wave puts pressure on Macron

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STORY: Teargas was fired at pension reform protesters on the streets of Nantes on Tuesday (February 7), as trade unions mobilized a third wave of strikes across France against President Emmanuel Macron's plans.

Public transport, schools and refinery supplies were disrupted, as workers vocalized their fury at Macron's aims to make the French work longer before retirement.

In Nice, demonstrating pensioner Bernard Chevalier said people are exhausted by the time they reach the current retirement age.

"I won't give up because as you can read on my sign, we'll need to get rid of the 64 years of age because the French are worn out from working, especially those who have strenuous jobs. For me, retirement is a second life, not a waiting room for death. With this reform, retirement will become a waiting room to die, and that's outrageous, because you need to work in order to live and not live to work."

Chevalier's sentiment is shared with many workers, like Sandrine, a nurse protesting in Paris.

"At some point, the people should say, ‘Stop,’ and make the government understand that it’s no longer acceptable. It’s always the same people who pay the price, so stop. We want to end our professional career in security, for us health workers, but for our patients as well."

The multi-sector walkouts come a day after the legislation began its bumpy passage through parliament.

And are a test of Macron's ability to enact change without a working majority in the National Assembly.

The government says people must work two years longer – until the age of 64 for most.

Why? To keep the budget of one of the industrial world's most generous pension systems in the black.

The French spend the largest number of years in retirement among OECD countries.

It's a deeply cherished benefit that a substantial majority are reluctant to give up, according to polls.

Politicians have dismissed opposition accusations that the government is in denial over the scale of public protests, and say that change is needed.

There are some signs though that public frustration is slowly easing.

Data has shown that protest participation was slightly lower than a week earlier.

Strike numbers among teachers fell to 14% from 26% the previous week.

While among workers at state-run energy giant EDF it was 30%, down from 40%.

The government says the reform will allow gross savings of more than $18 billion per year by 2030.

Unions and leftwing opponents say the money can and should be found elsewhere, most notably from the wealthy.