The city of lights has turned into a city of fires as the garbage collection strike continues.
Garbage collectors not just in the capital city of Paris, but also in Bordeaux, Nantes, Saint-Brieuc, and Le Havre have been on strike for the past 18 days to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to extend the country’s retirement age by two years, which passed Parliament on Monday.
The strike underlines the hazards of the garbage collector’s job. In Paris alone, where half of the city’s garbage is collected by municipal workers (and the other half split among four private companies), over 10,000 tons of uncollected garbage accumulated in the districts covered by the municipal collectors as of Friday last week, according to the city hall.
Macron’s pension reform would raise the age when workers can start collecting their government pension from 62 to 64 for a majority of workers, and from 57 to 59 for garbage collectors. Macron had previously pushed for reforms in the pensions system in 2019, but was met with nationwide strikes. He was ultimately forced to abandon the reform then as the Covid-19 pandemic started.
Macron has continued to push for the reform, arguing that it would address a pension funding deficit and make the system more sustainable in the future. The Pensions Advisory Council says that without changes to the country’s retirement system, it is projected to carry an annual deficit of as much as 0.8% of annual economic output in the next decade.
The French president, who refused to meet with the unions to discuss the matter, pushed the bill at the Parliament by leveraging a special constitutional measure that allowed them to bypass a vote in the Parliament. And while it’s considered adopted, the bill will still need to be reviewed by the Constitutional Council before it can be signed into law.
But the garbage collectors and their supporters have not shown signs of backing down. Protesters have lit piles and piles of garbage on fire all throughout the week. And the unions have called for renewed protests around the country next week.
In some cities, like Bordeaux, firefighters have reportedly taken the side of the garbage collectors.
Meanwhile, King Charles’ visit to France has been postponed as the protests rage on.
Macron will soon need to address his people’s growing anger as demonstrations take a more aggressive, more fiery turn.
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