Unions call for show of force in the face of Macron’s pension reform

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Garbage is piling up in Paris, liquefied natural gas operations are suspended and rail services cancelled on Wednesday, as unions urged a show of force against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform neared final steps in parliament.

A broad alliance of unions has called for an eighth day of street protests across France since mid-January to challenge Macron’s plans to push back the retirement age by two years, to 64.

The pension reform bill goes to a joint parliamentary committee where lawmakers in the lower and upper houses will seek a consensus text on Wednesday before a final vote in both the Senate and the National Assembly on Thursday.

Macron’s party faces a last-minute fight to secure enough votes in the Assembly, where it lacks an absolute majority of its own and will have the support of the conservative Les Republicains party, although its ranks are divided on the issue.

“In the National Assembly, there will be no easy vote, nor will there be panic,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told Europe 1 radio.

Macron and his government say changes to the pension system, one of the most generous among industrialized nations, are necessary to keep the pension budget in the black. What is at stake for the president, however, is not only financial gains, but also his reformist credentials.

Senior ruling party officials acknowledge that the numbers ahead of the vote are tight.

If the vote is expected to be very close, the government could resort to a procedure known as 49:3, which would allow it to have the text approved in Parliament without putting it to a vote. In this way, it could provoke anger in the streets, but it would avoid a possible motion of censure in Parliament in case the vote failed.

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Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told the Assembly on Tuesday she wanted a vote while unions stood firm.

“This reform is unfair, brutal and overwhelmingly rejected by the public,” Laurent Berger, head of the reformist CFDT union, told BFM TV.

More than 6,000 tons of garbage have accumulated in Paris, where municipal garbage dumps have extended their strike for a second week. The energy sector has also been affected.

Blockades have been prolonged at four liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, according to Engie’s subsidiary (EPA:ENGIE), Elengy, and commercial sources.

Several French-bound LNG vessels have changed course to other terminals in Britain, the Netherlands and Spain since the strike began, and closing the terminals for another week would significantly affect France’s ability to export gas to neighbouring countries.

TotalEnergies said deliveries from its refineries petroleum and fuel tanks remained blocked. Esso’s Fos refinery was also unable to produce products.

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