PARIS: Tens of thousands of striking rail workers, angry public sector staff and students rallied across France on Thursday against President Emmanuel Macron in what trade unions hoped would underline resistance nationwide to his reform efforts.
Under sunny skies, thousands marched, chanted and carried anti-Macron banners in Paris as well as other cities such as Lyon and Marseille, but the scale of the protests appeared below expectations.
Around 15,000 rallied in Paris, according to a count by crowd consultancy Occurence, while police estimated the number at 11,500. The hard-left CGT union, the main organiser, put the crowd at 50,000.
“We’re here for public services. We’re ready to continue the whole summer, even into September and October,” Helene Tricre, a 25-year-old ticket inspector working for the SNCF railway, told AFP at the Paris rally.
The overwhelmingly peaceful march was marred by occasional clashes between police and far-left groups, many of them hooded and masked, who were seen smashing several shop windows.
Rail workers were also carrying out their fourth wave of stoppages this month, although the number of strikers was down sharply from the beginning of April.
Only one in three high-speed TGV trains was running, but this was higher than three weeks ago when only one in eight went ahead.
Staff at the debt-laden SNCF, a bastion of hard-left trade unionism, are striking every two days out of five against plans by Macron to remove job-for-life guarantees and pension privileges for new recruits.
“It’s a critical moment for Emmanuel Macron’s presidency,” Stephane Zumsteeg, a public opinion expert from the Ipsos polling group, told AFP.
“Either he shows his ability to reform or he fails, and then it’s difficult to know what he will able to do for the rest of his term.”—AFP