Hundreds of thousands of people protested across France on Labour Day to show their opposition to President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform. Unions hoped for a large turnout to further challenge Macron, who had been jeered during his tour of the country defending the bill. The new law increases the retirement age from 62 to 64, despite months of strikes against it. Violence erupted in several cities on the sidelines of the main union-led marches, with at least 108 police injured and 291 people detained. The turnout was massively higher than May Day last year but smaller than the biggest protests seen against the pension reform this year.
In Paris, radical protesters threw objects at police and damaged businesses such as banks and estate agents. Security forces responded with tear gas and water cannon. Police used drones as a security measure after a Paris court rejected a petition from rights groups for them not to be used. In Toulouse, southern France, security forces deployed tear gas as tensions erupted during demonstrations, while four cars were set on fire in the southeastern city of Lyon. Protesters briefly occupied the luxury InterContinental hotel in Marseille, breaking flowerpots and damaging furniture.
Almost three in four French people were unhappy with Macron, according to a survey by the IFOP polling group last month. The turnout was “still very strong”, said Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT union. “It is a sign that resentment and anger are not diminishing.” Monday marked the first time since 2009 that all eight of France’s main unions joined in calling for protests.
Protests on a smaller and less fractious scale took place across Europe, including in Spain where flag-waving demonstrators joined more than 70 rallies under the slogan: “Raise wages, lower prices and share profits”.