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Strikes continue in France as the public protests higher retirement age

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Anger in France has only grown since President Emmanuel Macron forced through his pension reform plan. That was on Monday. Today saw another nationwide round of strikes and demonstrations.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in French).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

KELLY: What you're hearing there is a protest in Paris this afternoon. And joining us from Paris is reporter Lisa Bryant. And, Lisa, tell me more about what happened in Paris and, I guess, across France today.

LISA BRYANT: Well, this was the ninth major nationwide strike and protests. There were big demonstrations in the French capital and dozens of others elsewhere in the country. People I talked to hope they can keep up the momentum to force President Macron to repeal his unpopular pension reform. They were brandishing signs saying things like, no Macron, and, Macron scornful of the republic. And many people don't buy Macron's argument that the system is going broke. I spoke to Jean-Francois Vilain at the Paris protest. He was there even though he's retired. Let's listen.

JEAN-FRANCOIS VILAIN: (Speaking French).

BRYANT: "I don't believe it. Most people don't," he says. "There's lots of money in France, but it's not in the hands of working people." The strikes are disrupting transportation, schools and oil refineries. Gas stations are running dry. Garbage is still rotting on Paris streets. Collectors are on rolling strikes. And like many protests, there's been some violence and clashes with police.

KELLY: Yeah. I've been monitoring the pictures out of Paris, and it's just trash bags everywhere you look, it seems. Take us back to the beginning of this week. I mentioned that he - Macron forced this through on Monday. What he wants to do is raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, but he didn't have the votes in parliament. So how did he do this?

BRYANT: So his government used a constitutional article - 49.3 - to push the reform through anyway, without a lower house vote. And many lawmakers and many French were furious. Earlier this week, Macron's government narrowly survived a no-confidence vote. Yesterday Macron was on national TV defending his reform, but he doesn't seem to have convinced many French. In fact, the poll out today finds more than 60% of people think his remarks will only inflame things.

KELLY: So he doesn't have public opinion on his side. Where do things go from here? Where does France go from here?

BRYANT: That's a really good question. Nobody really knows. Macron wants his reform to become law by the end of the year. The opposition wants to block it by any way possible from appealing to the Constitutional Council - that's France's highest constitutional authority - to holding a referendum to mass protests. These are really uncertain and rocky days in France.

KELLY: Well, thank you for getting us up to speed on what is happening there. Reporter Lisa Bryant in Paris. Thanks.

BRYANT: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.