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France's million-man march. Isn't socialism great! Bernie should move there.

From each according to their need, to each according to whether the feel like working (or not). Bernie Sanders was born in the wrong place.

Over a Million French Protesters March Against Macron’s Pension-Age Raise

Trains were curtailed and many schools were shut down during nationwide demonstrations

By Noemie Bisserbe and Sam Schechner, WSJ

Updated March 23, 2023 3:41 pm ET

PARIS—More than a million protesters took to the streets across France on Thursday in a full-throated rebuke of President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to push his pension overhaul through Parliament.

The turnout, which produced a river of humanity that snaked through the boulevards of Paris, was a sign that public resistance to Mr. Macron’s overhaul isn’t letting up even as the measures are set to become law.

Mr. Macron a week ago invoked a special provision of the French constitution to bypass Parliament and raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030, a move that triggered no-confidence votes and a wave of spontaneous, albeit smaller, protests that at times turned violent.

Thursday’s demonstrations were the first nationwide mobilization organized by unions since Mr. Macron’s contentious maneuver, and it opened the floodgates of public frustration. Teachers, train drivers, nurses, oil-refinery staff and other workers went on strike and joined protests around the country. The Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles remained closed. Trains and public transportation were severely curtailed, and many schools across the country were forced to shut down. Hundreds of domestic and international flights were canceled.

In Paris alone about 119,000 people marched in the streets, according to the Interior Ministry, making it one of the capital’s largest protests in recent years. More than five hours after the beginning of the demonstration, thousands of protesters still hadn’t reached Place de l’Opéra, where the 2.5-mile march was expected to end.

Protesters in Paris smashed some storefronts and threw fireworks and other projectiles at police, who responded by firing tear gas. Some clashes erupted between protesters and police in other cities including Rennes and Nantes, cities in the west of France.

On Wednesday, Mr. Macron sought to turn the page on his battle with unions after his government narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly earlier in the week. In an interview on French television, he said raising the retirement age was necessary to preserve France’s pension system without increasing the country’s debt, adding that the measure would enter into force by the end of the year.

He also compared protesters who recently attacked the offices of French lawmakers with those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“We must say very clearly: We respect, we listen,” Mr. Macron said. “But we cannot accept rebels and factions.”

Philippe Martinez, the leader of far-left CGT union, said Mr. Macron’s speech showed contempt for protesters. “He’s added fuel to the fire,” Mr. Martinez said Thursday, calling on workers to take to the streets to force the government to reverse course.

About 1.08 million protesters demonstrated across the country on Thursday, according to the Interior Ministry. The turnout fell short of the nearly 1.3 million people who demonstrated earlier this month in one of the largest protests in the country in recent decades, but was higher than on March 15, when 480,000 people took to the streets. Since the beginning of the year, unions have organized nine nationwide strikes and demonstrations against the pension overhaul.

Mr. Macron risks a lengthy and destructive movement bubbling up from the French street, akin to the yellow-vest protests that roiled the country for more than a year starting in 2018. His decision has also rekindled anger against France’s political institutions and the vast powers given to the executive branch, discontent that helped fuel the yellow vests.

Revamping the country’s pension system was one of the main planks of Mr. Macron’s re-election campaign last year. The overhaul has become a symbol of his efforts to make France’s economy more competitive and reduce the country’s national deficit.

The president wants to bring the national deficit—which was 5% of gross domestic product last year—in line with the European Union’s 3% target. France spends around 14.5% of its economic output on pensions, compared with 7.5% in the U.S. and 10.4% in Germany, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a club of rich nations.

In France, as in many other countries, workers and employers contribute payroll taxes to fund pension checks for retirees. But as the people live longer and the population grows older, the system has come under stress.

The country’s pension system is expected to run a deficit of 1.8 billion euros in 2023, equivalent to $1.95 billion. That amount is set to increase to €10.7 billion in 2025 and €21.2 billion in 2035, according to an independent panel of economists, lawmakers and union leaders advising the government on pensions.

Unions say the proposed changes will penalize people who started working at a young age.

Public support for the protest movement remains strong. But a survey of 1,037 people by polling firm Elabe on March 22 showed 60% of French people support the strikes against the proposed pension overhaul, compared with 65% last week.

The bill still needs to be approved by France’s constitutional council to become law.

Thursday’s demonstration was the first time Fleur Morin, a 28-year-old architect, went out to protest against the retirement overhaul. She said she thinks it is unlikely Mr. Macron will withdraw the law, but has felt growing resentment since his government bypassed Parliament to push it through.

“No one wants this law, no one voted for it, and they passed it anyway,” Ms. Morin said. “It feels like the last peaceful chance we have to turn it around.”

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