Nationwide protests and strikes are hampering, if not shutting down, travel to France, with no clear end in sight to the outrage over a plan by the French government to raise the national retirement age.
Strikes are a sometimes unavoidable fact of life in France, where strong unions often shut down transportation infrastructure to press workers’ demands.
As travel journalist and author Julie L. Kessler recently said, “If the plug was pulled every time there was a strike in Paris, no one would ever go.”
However, the protests against the Macron government’s pension reform plan has been particularly widespread and intense. Protests, ranging from peaceful to violent, have wracked Paris and cities like Rennes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lyon, Marsailles and Nantes. Protests have been happening since January, and union leaders have called for another national day of protests on April 6.
Protestors have sporadically blocked roads and train lines as well as conducting large street marches.
“Large-scale demonstrations continue throughout France with reports of hundreds of black-clad violent protestors infiltrating the demonstrations, seeking clashes with police, damaging property, shooting fireworks, and setting fires,” the U.S. State Department warned on March 23. “Police in riot gear have responded with tear gas, water cannons, and targeted police actions to deter further violence. U.S. citizens should continue to avoid demonstrations and areas with significant police activity. U.S. citizens finding themselves near violent protest activity should depart the area immediately, taking care not put themselves between the demonstrators and police.”
Unions have also staged periodic strikes in the transport, aviation and energy industries, and work stoppages also resulted in closures at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre museum in late March.
On March 28, workers shut down service on the Eurostar and TGV train lines. Airports have been especially affected, with Paris Orly, Marseille, Toulouse, Lyon, Bordeaux and Nantes experiencing flight disruptions and a planned walkout by air traffic controllers expected to lead to nationwide flight cancellations on the weekend of April 1-2.
Despite the protests, the Macron government has show little inclination to back off from its plan to raise the French pension age from 62 to 64, deepening concerns that the strikes and travel disruptions could extend into the summer.