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By Elizabeth Pineau

French unions plan June 6 protests against Macron and his pension law

FILE PHOTO: People attend the traditional May Day labour march, a day of mobilisation against the French pension reform law and for social justice, in Nantes, France May 1, 2023. The banner reads "Menu of the day: Casserole a la Macron". REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

French trade unions announced on Tuesday a new nationwide day of protests on June 6 against President Emmanuel Macron's decision to increase the retirement age by two years to 64.

The reform, which Macron signed into law last month despite weeks of protests and strikes, has crystallised discontent against a president perceived by many in France as being aloof and indifferent to their daily hardships.

FILE PHOTO: A riot police officer lies on the ground as his colleagues extinguish the fire on his protective vest after he was hit by a petrol bomb during May Day protests in Paris, France May 1, 2023 in this still image from social media video. Timothee Forget via REUTERS

With lawmakers poised to discuss on June 8 a draft bill proposed by the opposition Liot party to cancel the retirement age reform, the unions said in a joint statement that the day of industrial action on June 6 was meant to "allow all workers to make themselves heard by the MPs."

Aware that the government is closely monitoring whether they can maintain a rare unified stance, the unions headlined their statement: "Still united, numerous and determined to get the (pension law's) withdrawal and social progress."

The government wants to move on to other issues and has said it will send invitations to the unions for talks by the end of the week.

The unions said they would use the upcoming talks to reaffirm their opposition to the pension reform and would work on joint proposals to improve workers' conditions.

But some could possibly still decide not to go to the meetings with Borne, a source who took part in the morning's union discussions said, adding that the phrasing of the lines referring to these meetings was bitterly discussed.

"There is a deep distrust, and dialogue can only be reestablished if the government proves its willingness to finally take into account the proposals of the trade unions", the joint union statement said.

Opinion polls show a substantial majority of French people oppose the higher retirement age.

Police clashed on Monday with hundreds of black-clad anarchists in Paris and other cities during May Day union-led protests against the pension reform.

On Wednesday France's Constitutional Council will review a new bid by the opposition to organise a citizens' referendum on the pension reform.

    It rejected a previous request last month, clearing the way for approval of the bill.

Bertrand Pancher, an MP who leads the Liot group, welcomed the unions' decision to call for a day of strikes and protests ahead of the vote on their legislative proposal to scrap the retirement age increase.

"It's only by joining forces that we can convince the lawmakers we need to vote the text and the government to back-track," he told Reuters.

Macron's centrist Renaissance group and their allies don't have an absolute majority in parliament, but are still the biggest force. Pancher said he hoped to convince a number of conservative Les Republicains to back his bid and give it a chance to succeed.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Jean-Stephane Brosse, Ingrid Melander and Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Bernadette Baum and Gareth Jones)

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