Thousands of people from different sectors of public life rallied at Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est on Thursday afternoon to begin a mass demonstration against President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reform.
Trade unions mobilised en masse across France on Thursday against the government's divisive pension reform project. Protesters included transport workers’ unions, teachers’ unions, hospital worker unions and student unions.
The protest on the street was calmer as unions organised themselves into groups and protesters kept themselves warm with vin chaud on a bitterly cold day.
Boulevard Magenta, a main thoroughfare, was fully blocked by thousands of marchers and vans carrying floats representing different unions.
“I have never protested for pensions before, but I felt I had to,” said 54 year old Valerie, a music teacher from Drancy.
“I am 54 years old, I will have to keep teaching until I am 67. And then what? I will have worked all my life and even then I won’t have a decent pension. I won’t be able to stop working. I am losing patience with this government.”
Hospital protesters were marching against the pension reform, but also low salaries and bed closures. “After a 40 year career, we can look forward to a pension of between €1000 - €1200. That’s just not enough,” said Thierry Fromont, a nursing assistant and hospital representative in the CGT union in Blois Loir-et-Cher.
Six thousand police and gendarmes were deployed in Paris alone for the marches from the two main Paris train stations to Place de la Nation amid fears that black bloc protesters had infiltrated the demonstration. Police searched protesters' bags.
The Paris police headquarters had announced on Tuesday that all shops along the route would have to stay closed, citing a "most tense" social backdrop to this strike and demonstration that could generate "violence and degradation".
"The owners or operators of shops, pubs and restaurants on the boulevards leading from Gare du Nord et Gare de l’Est to Place de la Nation must close them until the end of the multi-union demonstration," the statement said.
Shop owners were also required to clear "terraces, counter-terraces and displays", which must be "emptied of all furniture, equipment and commercial fittings that could be used as a projectile or weapon".
The protest is scheduled to end at 7pm, according to the prefecture's order.