Piles of food waste piled up in view of the Eiffel Tower. Small cobbled streets lined with overflowing trash cans. The banks of the Seine River are surrounded by piles of garbage.
For more than a week, garbage workers in parts of Paris and other cities across France have been on strike, protesting against President Emmanuel Macron's plans to raise the age when most workers start collecting the government pension to 64, from 62.
Garbage heaped in unsanitary piles, some taller than pedestrians trying to avoid it, is a symbol of the people's stinking and deep anger against the government's plans. It also serves as a physical reminder of the hardships of a profession unsuited to old age, say garbage workers.
“You can see our work all over Paris,” said Alain Auvinet, 55, who manned the incinerator on the west edge of the city where he worked for 35 years. “We held a massive protest. The government doesn't listen. Instead, it gave us the finger. This is our last way of fighting back.”
After two months of political wrangling, massive protests in cities across the country and scattered strikes, the final decision on France's pension system will likely be made this week. On Wednesday, amid more boisterous protests across the country, a joint committee of lawmakers from both houses of parliament drafted a general version of the proposed law, which will be submitted to the Senate and National Assembly for final approval on Thursday.
The looming question is whether Macron has garnered enough support from outside his hodgepodge of centrist political parties to secure a vote in the National Assembly, where he no longer holds a strong majority. If not, the next question is whether Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne will instead use her constitutional powers to force the law into law without a vote, leading the government to exercise a vote of no confidence.
Members of the government believe that “the conditions have been met” for a majority to approve the bill, its spokesman, Olivier Véran, said on Wednesday. The government is not considering using alternative constitutional powers, he said, “but we are not considering abandoning our pension reform plans either.”
Either way, few expected to see a weekend with France keeping its 62-year retirement age.
“I stand with the strikers,” said Dawoud Guenfoud, staring at the slalom lane of overflowing trash onto the sidewalk outside the frieze and gift shop he runs near the Place de la Madeleine. “But, I think the reforms will pass.”
France enjoys one of the most generous pension systems in Europe. Built after World War II as part of the country's lauded social protection system, this complex pension program offers what many consider a golden — and long — third stage to explore passion, enjoy grandchildren, and volunteer while enjoying an equal standard of living. . with or better than the general population. As many workers such as scavengers argue, this is also seen as a time to recover from a lifetime of hard work.
Macron's government argues that the retirement age must be increased to keep the system paying off. Current workers and their employers pay retired pensions, but with people living longer and the number of retirees growing, the system faces a long-term deficit.
But even the official body charged with monitoring the French pension system has acknowledged that there is no imminent threat of bankruptcy, and unions and left-wing opponents have accused Macron of neglecting other ways to increase funding, including taxes on the rich.
From the beginning, opinion poll it has been shown that the large and relatively staunch majority of French people oppose the change. Millions of people have taken to the streets during the eight nationwide protest marches.
While eight of the country's top unions have joined together in relatively rare unity rallies to oppose change, they have shown little to no action so far. Mr Macron refused to meet with them last week, arguing that he did not want to avoid a parliamentary debate.
On Wednesday, demonstrators gathered in cities across France to express their final opposition to the bill.
“This is the last call, to tell Parliament not to vote for this reform,” said Laurent Berger, head of the country's largest union, the French Democratic Labor Confederationfrom protests in Paris on Wednesday afternoon.
He supports the garbage workers, who in Paris have voted to extend their strike until next week.
“This is not what Paris I expected,” said Martina Stengina, 18, a German university student, stepping out of a taxi and maneuvering her bright red suitcase around piles of trash strewn in the middle of the streets in the city center. the east end, where he rents an apartment. “I just hope this doesn't bring rats to our place,” he said, as one of his friends snapped a selfie in front of a trash can.
Georgina Pillement, 32, surveys the piles of trash outside her office building near Place Vendôme during a smoke break.
“France should be a leader in ecology,” said Ms. Pillement, who works at a green investment company. “The Olympics is only a year away. This worries me a little.”
Workers went on strike just over a week ago in cities across the country, including Le Havre, Nantes, Antibes and Rennes. In Paris, about half the city has been affected, from the glorious 16th arrondissement, to the city's historic intellectual heart of the Latin Quarter and working-class residential quarters in the east.
As of Wednesday, some 7,600 metric tons of trash remained uncollected on the streets, according to Paris city hall. Workers at the three incinerators that burn city waste also went on strike.
Enjoying the opportunity to divert anger, several ministers of the national government attacked the Socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, and the city government of ParisWhich hanging two banners is the support of the protest movement outside the ornate town hall, for not picking up trash.
Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Grégoire responded by saying that the Macron government was responsible. He expressed sympathy for garbage workers who have a lower life expectancy than business executives, saying two more years of work “means a lot”.
“The best way to get them back to work is to withdraw the pension reform bill,” he said.
Few people thought it would happen. The government is expected to push through with its plans, no matter how unpopular.
“You are no longer leading; You are no longer trying to get the people's approval,” said François Ruffin, a left-wing lawmaker from the France Unbowed party, during a question and answer period in the National Assembly on Tuesday. “You destroyed the democracy you were supposed to heal; You are damaging a country that needs to be repaired.”
Ms. Borne, the prime minister, replied that his government had consulted extensively, and hoped for the support of the majority who “believe in the pension system” and “want to guarantee that young people will benefit from it.”
If the bill becomes law, it is unclear whether the massive protests will continue and what the long-term consequences, if any, will be for Macron and his government.
Some political analysts predict that the protests will subside, but the bitterness will prompt voters to punish Macron's party, first in next year's European Parliament elections.
“People will not mobilize for laws that have been voted on by Parliament because French workers recognize the legitimacy of Parliament that results from universal suffrage,” said Guy Groux, a sociologist at Sciences Po. “The most likely outcome is that unions will say, ‘If the law passes, there will be political repercussions at the ballot box.'”
But the specter of pushing the bill without a vote – even if it is constitutional – is in the opinion of many undemocratic. “The least we can say is that it would be grossly disrespectful to what is happening on the streets and what public opinion thinks,” Philippe Martinez, head of the far-left CGT union, said on Wednesday. His workers intend to continue fighting, he said.
Many see planned change as a threat to their way of life and values.
“France is a country of solidarity. We are losing it, bit by bit,” said Mr Auvinet, the picket worker, who hopes to still retire early at 57, like most trash workers under the current system in France. Under the government's plan, that age will be gradually pushed to 59.
Standing beside him in front of a fire burning in a metal container outside an inactive incinerator on Issy-les-Moulineaux, his partner Vincent Pommier, 27, agreed: “We believe in life, not survival. We are not numbers. We are not beasts.
Tom Nouvian And Aurelien Breeder reporting contribution.