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French strikes lead to government back down, but unions vow to continue fight against neoliberalism

THE French government was accused of offering a “smokescreen” on Saturday as it scrapped plans to increase the state retirement age.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe made the concession in a letter to trade unions which have been on strike against the proposed pension reforms since mid-December.

He offered to pause plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 in a bid to end the widely supported walkouts.

The letter was sent after government ministers attended talks with union leaders on Friday.

“To demonstrate my confidence in the social partners … I am willing to withdraw from the Bill the short-term measure I had proposed,” he wrote.

Mr Macron described it as “a constructive compromise” and the moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) welcomed the government offer.

But the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) warned of a “smokescreen” and said it was “more determined than ever” to stop the neoliberal reforms, with strike action due to enter its 39th day today.

Unions are angered over the latest reform package proposed by Mr Macron, which would weaken terms and conditions of transport workers ahead of plans to offer state-run services to the private sector.

The government insists that the reforms are necessary to merge France’s 42 pension schemes into one pot.

CFDT general secretary Laurent Berger said the climbdown was “a victory” for the union and showed “the government’s willingness to compromise.”

“We obtained the withdrawal of the pivotal age, a victory for the CFDT! We will now continue our action for a fairer and more united retirement system,” he said.

The CGT encouraged people “to participate massively in strikes and demonstrations planned for next week” and said it was pressing for the reforms to be scrapped entirely.

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