PARIS – Thousands of protesters, including the newly crowned French Nobel laureate in literature, gathered in the streets of Paris on Sunday, angering the bite of rising prices and mounting pressure on President Emmanuel Macron’s government.
The march for wage increases and other demands was organized by leftist opponents of Macron and lit the fuse in what promises to be an uneasy week for his centrist government.
Transport strikes announced Tuesday threaten to coincide with wage strikes that have already hampered fuel refineries and depots, causing chronic gasoline shortages that are unnerving the nerves of millions of workers and other motorists who depend on their vehicles, with massive queues waiting form at gas stations.
Macron’s government is also on the defensive in parliament, where it lost its majority in June’s parliamentary elections. That makes it much more difficult for its centrist alliance to carry out its domestic agenda against stronger opponents, and the parliamentary discussion on the government’s budget plan for next year is proving particularly difficult.
In a flaming speech to the Paris march, far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon accused Macron of being “fried” and that his leadership is plunging France into “chaos”.
He predicted that Macron’s ministers would have to ram the budget through the lower house of parliament without giving lawmakers a voice – a controversial prospect that sparked loud booing from the crowd.
Organizers claimed more than 140,000 protesters marched. Paris police said they had no immediate estimate of the size of the dense flag-waving crowd that filled squares and streets. There were a few outbreaks of vandalism in the fringe, with trash cans set on fire and ATMs smashed. The riot police kept order.
On the side of Mélenchon, the French author Annie Ernaux, who won the Nobel Prize for literature this year, demonstrated. Mélenchon – twice defeated by Macron in the presidential elections – called the protest “an immense success”.
Organizers called it a “march against the high cost of living and climate inaction”. They not only called for massive investment in the fight against the climate crisis, but also demanded emergency measures at high prices, including freezing the costs of energy, essential goods and rents, and a higher tax on unexpected profits.
Lawmaker Christophe Bex of the left-wing party France Insoumise – or France Unbowed – called the march “a demonstration of strength” to show “that another world is finally possible when we are all together and all united.”
Another protester, retired railroad worker Eric Doire, said: “What we want is for everyone to be able to live decently with the purchasing power they had before.”