PARIS/TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Public sector workers marched peacefully through cities across France on Tuesday, heeding a call by trade unions to stage one of the biggest protests in decades in a revolt against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform.
Commuters grappled with widespread transport chaos on a sixth day of strikes that unions said forced dozens of schools to close in Paris, airlines to cancel 20% of flights and refineries to halt distribution.
The unions show no sign of backing down in a battle that could define the presidency of former investment banker Macron, who is determined to simplify a system of more than 40 pension plans that provide some of the world’s most generous benefits.
"Yes, there is a need to reform the pension system. But there’s no need to break it,” Philippe Martinez, head of the hard-left CGT union told public broadcaster France 2. "Macron’s project is each to his own. Ours is about solidarity.”
The unions urged rail workers, doctors, teachers and other public workers to turn the screws on Macron before his government unveils the details of its proposal on Wednesday.
In Bordeaux and Marseille, thousands of protesters waved union flags and held up banners reading: "We have to get rid of Macron”. Demonstrations were also taking place in Rennes, Lyon, Nantes and Paris. In the capital, riot police fanned out along the Champs Elysees boulevard in central Paris and barricaded streets leading to the offices of Macron and his prime minister.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday "seriously advised” citizens intending to visit France to rearrange their trips.
"Given the continued popular protests in the French Republic during the past year and in view of the general strikes in the past two days, which were accompanied by violence in the country’s different cities, particularly Paris, Iranian travelers and tourists are seriously advised to postpone their travel plan to the French Republic to another time in order to protect their security and health,” the ministry said in a travel warning.
The days ahead will test whether Macron can deliver the social and economic change he says is necessary for France to compete with powers like China and the United States.
Failure to reform would mean a deficit of up to 17 billion euros ($18.74 billion), 0.7% of GDP, by 2025, an independent pension committee forecast.
Macron is aware of the public opposition to simply raising the retirement age of 62. One alternative is to curb benefits for those who stop working before 64 and give a boost to those who leave later.
The strike is among the biggest since 1995 when prime minister Alain Juppe was forced to abandon an overhaul of the pension system after weeks of industrial action. Juppe’s cabinet never recovered from that defeat.
The closer the strikes get to Christmas, the more difficult Macron will find it not to make substantial compromises, Saxo Bank’s Dembik said.
A survey published in the Journal du Dimanche showed 53% of the public backed the strike for now.