Another day of strike chaos in France ahead of key vote on pension reforms

Rubbish continues to pile up on the streets of Paris
Rubbish continues to pile up on the streets of Paris Copyright Lewis Joly/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Lewis Joly/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Mark Armstrong with AP
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France suffers another round of strike chaos as unions and politicians continue to voice opposition to President Macron's pension reforms ahead of a crucial vote

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In France, opponents of President Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms staged an eighth round of strikes on Wednesday. 

The action came as a joint committee of senators and lower house lawmakers were examining the controversial bill. 

The latest passage in the legislative process to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 is prompting a peak of political tensions and one key question: Will the bill command a parliamentary majority?

Trade unions are hoping that further demonstrations across the country will reinforce workers' massive opposition to the plan, promoted by Macron as central to his vision for making the French economy more competitive.

Jeremias Gonzalez/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Nantes, western France on Wednesday 15th MarchJeremias Gonzalez/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

The meeting of seven senators and seven lawmakers from the National Assembly (the Lower House) was to try to reach an accord on the final version of the text.

 The Senate is expected to approve it on Thursday, as its conservative majority is in favour of raising the retirement age,  but the situation at the National Assembly is much more complicated. 

Macron’s centrist alliance lost its majority in legislative elections last year, forcing the government to count on conservatives' votes to pass the bill.

Leftists and far-right lawmakers are strongly opposed to the measure.

The head of the conservative Republicans, Eric Ciotti, who himself has a seat at the National Assembly, said in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that “the highest interest of the nation... commands us to vote for the reform.”

But conservative lawmakers are divided and some are planning to vote against or abstain, making the outcome in the Lower House hard to predict.

With no guarantee of a majority, Macron's government is facing a dilemma: A vote Thursday afternoon in the National Assembly would give more legitimacy to the bill if adopted, but there's a risk it could be rejected.

Another option would be to use a special constitutional power to force the bill through parliament without a vote. But such an unpopular move would prompt immediate criticism from the political opposition and unions about the lack of democratic debate.

Republicans party lawmaker Aurelien Pradié, who opposes the reforms, said that if the special power were to be used he would lodge it with the constitutional council, a higher French legal body, to challenge the democratic legitimacy of the move.

Train drivers, school teachers, dock workers and others were again planning to walk off the job on Wednesday.

Thousands of tons of garbage are piling up on the streets of Paris and other French cities amid continuing strikes against the plans.

Industrial action is also affecting public transport across France including air travel with 20% of flights at Paris Orly airport cancelled.

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