March 23 was a national day of action, a general strike, organized by the labor unions in France.
According to union estimates, around 3.5 million people hit the streets in more than 250 locations across France that day, Peoples Dispatch reports.
Workers have continued work stoppages in critical areas, including energy, transportation, railways, seaports, airports, industries, schools, colleges and universities, municipal services including waste management, and tightened blockades of major roads, bridges, and roundabouts in major cities.
The day before, on March 22, President Emmanuel Macron went on national TV to reiterate his decision to force pension cuts through the National Assembly without a vote, using Article 49.3, a part of the French constitution that enables the government to pass a law without a vote by parliament.
Macron defied the opposition of nearly 80% of the population, who all opposed the pension cuts. People marched across France from Marseille, to Toulouse to Lyon, according to the labor unions. In Paris, there were nearly a million.
The largest demonstrations in years have included thousands of street actions, with over a thousand fires set around Paris and hundreds of arrests.
Tensions ran high in the cities of Bordeaux and Lyon. Besides setting fire to Bordeaux’s town hall, protesters targeted banks and threw bottles at police in Lyon.
At Roissy-Charles De Gaulle Airport and across the country, wildcat actions by protesters blocked roads and school access while people gathered with banners reading “No to the pension reform.”
Near Toulouse, in the southwest, plumes of smoke were seen rising from burning piles of debris blocking traffic on a highway. Unions also blocked the train tracks at Paris’ Gare de Lyon station.
“There may be tougher action ahead, more serious and further-reaching,” warned Fabrice Coudour, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) labor union’s leading energy sector representative. The CGT is France’s biggest union federation and is historically linked with the French Communist Party (PCF).
The CGT announced that it would force the shutdown of energy giant TotalEnergies’ refinery in Normandy in France’s northwest as of this weekend.
Picket lines at power utility Electricite de France would also be extended, the CGT said. And early on Friday, CGT activists blocked Paris’s busy ring road, the Boulevard Peripherique.
The unions have already put the responsibility for any future trouble at the government’s doorstep.
French Communist Party National Secretary Fabien Roussel said:
We are going through an exceptional social, economic and democratic crisis. This movement is historic.
Roussel urged the creation of unity between the left and the labor union organizations “to work hand in hand.”
The class struggle burning in France is closely tied to the U.S.-NATO proxy war launched in Ukraine against Russia.
Before putting through the pension cuts by diktat, Macron told the council of ministers that the cuts were necessary in response to the mounting capitalist financial crisis, including fears of European bank failures, as well as France’s skyrocketing military budget.
In January, Macron announced a $445-billion boost to the military budget, including expanded participation in the U.S.-NATO war against Russia.
Under Macron, France has become the world’s second-biggest arms exporter after the U.S. The pension cuts will help to increase France’s military production.