VERSAILLES, France (Reuters) – Protesters seeking to scupper reform of France’s pension system scuffled with police on Monday near the Palace of Versailles, outside Paris, where President Emmanuel Macron was due later to pitch France as an investment destination to global executives.
Several dozen protesters chanted “We are going to screw your reform” and pushed up against lines of riot police who were blocking their path to the gilded palace that was built in the 17th century during the reign of King Louis XIV.
“We’re still here, this isn’t over yet,” protester Giles Le Moyn said, as others scorned Macron for serving what they see as the interests of company bosses.
After taking office in 2017 Macron moved swiftly to relax labor regulations and cut taxes on companies and investors. He is now in the process of overhauling the pension system in his drive to make the labor force more flexible and competitive.
A wave of strikes and protests that has lasted more than six weeks has underlined the scale of continued opposition to his efforts to liberalize the French economy, a year after anti-government “yellow vest” protests rocked his presidency.
The strikes have wreaked havoc on rail and metro services in Paris, curbed power production and squeezed the revenues of retailers, hotels and restaurants.
Unions say the proposed reform will mean many workers have to work longer to secure a full pension.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the industrial action would shave 0.1 percentage point off economic growth over the course of one quarter, echoing the central bank’s forecast.
The strikes appear, however, to be fast losing steam after Macron’s government made concessions over the retirement age and as strikers face mounting financial pressure to return to work.
The UNSA trade union, which represents about a third of employees at the company which operates the metro and buses in Paris, said its workers were ending their indefinite strike on Monday, but still opposed the reform and would resort to other protest actions.
Train services on the state-run SNCF rail network were operating a near-normal timetable on Monday, although further walkouts are planned by hardline unions, and protests continue inside the energy sector.
In a sign that protesters may resort increasingly to wildcat actions, one group last Friday tried to force its way into a theater where Macron was watching a performance, while another stormed the headquarters of the reform-mided CFDT union.
Hardleft trade unions accuse the president of eroding workers’ rights.
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Jean-Stephane Brosse; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by William Maclean and Gareth Jones)