A wave of strikes has left President Emmanuel Macron with the gravest challenge to his authority since the so-called ‘Gilets Jaunes’ or ‘Yellow Vest’ protests of December 2018.
Videos show tear gas being used by police to deal with crowd disorder as protesters gathered in Paris’ Place de la Concorde, near the Assemblee Nationale parliament building.
“Macron, Resign!” chanted some demonstrators, while others held a cardboard cut-out of Macron near a fire.
It follows similar protests on Thursday, after Macron decided to push through the contested pension overhaul without a parliamentary vote.
The overhaul raises France’s state pension age by two years to 64, which the government says is essential to ensure the system does not go bust.
But unions, and most voters, disagree and want to hold on to the retirement age of 62, which is among the lowest in OECD countries.
More than eight out of 10 people are unhappy with the government’s decision to skip a vote in parliament, and 65 per cent want strikes and protests to continue, a Toluna Harris Interactive poll for RTL radio showed.
Going ahead without a vote “is a denial of democracy ... a total denial of what has been happening in the streets for several weeks”, 52-year-old psychologist Nathalie Alquier said in Paris. “It’s just unbearable.”
A broad alliance of France’s main unions said they would continue their mobilisation to try and force a U-turn on the changes.
Protests are planned for this weekend, with a new day of nationwide industrial action scheduled for Thursday.
Teachers’ unions called for strikes next week, which could disrupt the emblematic Baccalaureate high-school exams.
While eight days of nationwide protests since mid-January, and many more local industrial actions, had been largely peaceful, the unrest on Thursday and Friday was reminiscent of the Yellow Vest protests in late 2018 over high fuel prices, which forced Macron into a partial U-turn on a carbon tax.
Left-wing and centrist opposition lawmakers filed a motion of no-confidence in the French parliament on Friday afternoon.
Macron lost his absolute majority in the lower house of parliament in elections last year, but there was little chance this would go through - unless a surprise alliance of lawmakers from all sides is formed, from the far-left to the far-right.
The leaders of the conservative Les Republicains (LR) party have ruled out such an alliance. None of them had sponsored the first motion of no confidence filed on Friday. The far-right was expected to file another later in the day.
Individual LR lawmakers have said they could break ranks, but the no confidence bill would require all of the other opposition lawmakers and half of LR’s 61 lawmakers to go through, which is a tall order.
“So far, French governments have usually won in such votes of no confidence,” said Berenberg chief economist Holger Schmieding.
He expected it would be the same again this time even if “by trying to by-pass parliament, Macron has already weakened his position”.
Votes in parliament were likely to take place over the weekend or on Monday.
Macron will want to turn the page quickly, with government officials already preparing more socially minded reforms. He can also choose, at some point, to fire Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who has been at the forefront of the pension debate.
But either or both moves may do little to quell anger on the streets. Neither of them had made public comments on Friday.