(Bloomberg) — Strikes against French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed pension reform entered their second month with no clear end in sight, as unions prepare for two more days of street protests, with some planning more radical actions.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will start another round of discussions with union representatives on Tuesday, which will mark the 34th consecutive day of strikes at state-owned railway company SNCF.
“I expect Edouard Philippe’s government to find a route to a quick compromise that respects the principles I have repeated,” Macron said during his New Year speech last week. “The pension reform I have committed to will be completed.”
Macron has already made unpopular changes to taxes, labor laws and the welfare system, but the pension reform is proving the most challenging for the French president. The labor unrest has already run longer than the 1995 strikes that forced the government to back off from changing the state system for retirement and health care.
The potential damage to the French economy is adding urgency to the talks as growth could be hampered if strikes drag on, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire signaled in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche on Sunday. The economy will grow 1.3% this year, the same pace as 2019, as long as a compromise with labor unions is reached quickly.
The strike has curtailed public transportation for the past month and dented the hospitality industry’s revenue, but it’s not too late to stem the damage, he said.
“There’s a time to make your opposition known, and there’s a time to find a compromise. That time has come.” Unions should accept Philippe’s offer to negotiate so that this week’s talks can end the standoff, Le Maire said.
There were some signs that the momentum of strikes may be starting to wane as metro and railway services around Paris improved slightly, while SNCF announced that speed train operations should be back to almost normal as soon as Monday, with significant improvement for other trains.
Further, a survey conducted Thursday and Friday by pollster Ifop and published on Sunday found that 44% support the strikers, down from 51% just before Christmas. The latest results found 37% opposed to the protests and 19% were indifferent.
Unions are still aiming to step up the demonstrations again as the holiday season ends with calls for a fourth day of nationwide protests on Jan. 9 and a fifth on Jan. 11. The far-left CGT union is pushing to escalate the demonstrations, calling for a complete blockade of the country’s refineries from Jan. 7 until Jan. 10.
The movement has coalesced discontent from all sides with opposition parties, from the far-right National Rally to EELV, the environmental party, also calling for the government to spike the reform.
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