May Day Pension Protests Turn Violent In France

President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform has sparked vehement protests in Paris and across France. According to the interior ministry, some 782,000 people took to the streets on May 1st to protest against the bill signed last month, which, if passed, would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 in September. While many of these protesters were peaceful, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted that police in Paris, Lyon, and Nantes faced “extremely violent thugs” who came in order to “kill cops and attack the property of others.” At least 108 police officers were wounded, including one officer who received burns to the face and hands after being hit with a Molotov cocktail, though Darmanin said the man’s life was not in danger. Even for a protest held on May Day – also known as International Workers’ Day, in commemoration of Chicago’s 1886 Haymarket Riot – the high casualty toll was “extremely rare,” Darmanin said.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne similarly condemned the violence, which she called unacceptable. Borne also expressed support for the forces of law and order.

300 people have been arrested in connection with the protests.

According to C.N.N., France believes that its pensions system is the bedrock of the state’s responsibilities and relationship with its citizens. The nation’s social support structure is highly regarded for its state-funded pension and health care systems, as well as the high standard of living which they support; at nearly 14% of G.D.P. in 2018, the country’s spending on state pensions is larger than in most other countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Macron, who says this longstanding system is too costly to be fit for the business-friendly France he wants to create, bypassed Parliament to push his pension reforms through without a vote – just after relaunching his second term in the 2022 presidential election.

The move has garnered widespread dissatisfaction and anger with a president many already couldn’t trust to defend their best interests. Three out of four French people oppose Macron’s overhaul of the retirement system, Al Jazeera estimates, and labour unions have risen up in response. In addition to the protests, Reuters says advocates have heckled Macron’s public appearances, aimed at rebuilding his critically low levels of support, with boos and clanging pots. “The page is not going to be turned [and our disapproval will not be buried] as long as there is no withdrawal of this pension reform,” General Confederation of Labour chief Sophie Binet said at the Paris protest. “The determination to win is intact.”

Macron’s antidemocratic subversion of Parliament is unacceptable and must have consequences, but the riots which have erupted in response are undermining the General Confederation of Labour’s protests. Turning the conversation towards the unnecessary violence dealt to innocent people and their properties distracts from the underlying issue: Macron’s endangerment of France’s welfare system, democracy, and general public. While labour unions and other protestors have a right to protest the reform, they must advance their message peacefully, by putting an end to the brutality and holding those who participated in the May Day violence accountable.