It’s three in the afternoon in Paris and clashes between protesters and police begin to break out earlier than usual. The unmistakable smell of tear gas also fills the streets of Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, scenes of fires and throwing stones at law enforcement officers. It is the atmosphere of the eleventh day of protests against the controversial pension reform that Delays retirement age from 62 to 64 and that it was approved with forceps by Emmanuel Macron.
The epicenter of the protest this time is the restaurant “La Rotunde”where the president celebrated with his closest friends the go to the second electoral round in 2017, which ultimately led him to the presidency. The place is considered an elitist icon, totally contrary to the social struggle. According to the police, some 300 protesters dressed in black – the famous black blocs – raged against the “brasserie”, breaking windows and setting fire to the red awning at the entrance.
Sophie Binetthe new general secretary of the General Confederation of Labor – the powerful CGT – does not hesitate to blame Macron for the violence: “It is evident the rejection of the people to this reform and to the fact of approving it by force… Emmanuel Macron He was the president of the rich, now he is the president of chaos…”
The scene of “La Rotonde” in pieces summarizes a much more intense discontent this Thursday. The reason is that, just the day before, the meeting between the union leaders and the prime minister, Elizabeth Bornefailed miserably in his attempt to calm down and restore social peace.
Following the railway line of Emmanuel Macron, Borne made it clear that he would not withdraw the pension reform. In response, the eight trade unionists summoned to his office fulfilled their promise: they withdrew from the dialogue table and called for a tougher protest on the street than ever.
But they fell short. The strike is not fulfilled like other times. Urban and rail transport functioned almost normally and teachers participated in 8% nationally. In demonstrations, the numbers also drop. Unions claim that 400,000 people came out to protest in the streets from Paris, fifty thousand less than last Tuesday, March 28. The interior ministry accounts also point downward: 93,000 people in Paris last week against 57,000 this Thursday.
At the national level, the unions claim to have gathered close to two million protesters while the authorities calculate a much lower number: 570,000.
Despite the declining figures, the movement does not seem to stop. In fact, the day ends with a new call to the street on April 13.
In this context of political and social tensions, a logical question arises: who benefits from all this? According to a poll published this week by the IFOP pollster, the big winner in the situation is the far-right Marine Le Pen. First, because there is a deep feeling of regret on the part of the voters for having supported Macron rather than allowing the extreme right to reach the presidency, even with the shadow of the old National Front -considered violent and racist- well present in the collective memory. “No more useful vote” reads a good number of banners in the middle of the street protests.
The second reason is that Marine Le Pen is no longer just convincing on far-right immigration issues. She has softened her image and her speech, managing to penetrate different layers of voters with issues such as inflation, security, employment, family.
According to IFOP, if the elections were held this Sunday, Le Pen would win with a 31% of the votes, placing himself above the candidate of the presidential party (eventually, the former prime minister Edouard Philippe) and the symbol of the French extreme left, Jean-Luc Melenchon.