Protests took place throughout France on May 1, International Workers’ Day, and one day later, on May 2, French labor unions called for another round of mass protests to take place on Tuesday, June 6.
The uprisings, which have been taking place for months, have been relatively more muted recently, having dwindled from gatherings with tens of thousands participants earlier this spring to smaller groups of several hundred citizens. Demonstrators have been voicing their opposition to French President Emmanuel Macron’s new pension plan, which pushes the retirement age from 62 to 64 and was enacted into law on April 14.
Heaping piles of garbage were finally removed from the Paris streets at the end of March and in early April when a garbage collectors’ strike that had been in effect since March 6 was finally called off; the strike was in response to their newly proposed retirement age, up to 59 from 57.
A new series of protests is expected to take place on June 6 just days before lawmakers are set to debate a possible repeal of the retirement reforms, Le Monde reports. The June 6 demonstrations are likely to bring another round of escalations that could again disrupt some services such as public transportation and air travel if union workers walk off the job.
In its latest update, security risk and crisis management firm Crisis24 notes that “activists will almost certainly continue to stage protests across France through mid-May to denounce the government’s pension reforms. Protesters will likely continue to target a series of regional visits conducted by President Emmanuel Macron.”
The firm notes that a major multi-sector strike has been called for June 6.
“Authorities will probably deploy an increased security presence to the sites of additional demonstrations and around government buildings. Protesters may block major roads—especially ring roads close to major cities—and obstruct access to transport hubs, such as bus and train depots,” reports Crisis24.
It adds that demonstrators might engage in acts of vandalism, including arson. Crisis 24 notes that “clashes between activists and security services cannot be ruled out; riot police may use tear gas or similar measures to disperse unruly crowds.”
Paris hasn’t been the only city witnessing uprisings and unrest. Protest marches have been taking place in Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux, and other cities throughout France.
Is it safe to travel to Paris?
The U.S. Embassy in Paris has issued a “demonstration alert,” warning that there are ongoing demonstrations taking place near the Place de la Concorde “with reports of trash and vehicles being set on fire.”
The Place de la Concorde is situated between the Champs-Élysées and the Jardin des Tuileries (the park adjacent to the Louvre) in the eighth arrondissement—it is known for its giant Egyptian obelisk and fountains.
The embassy also warned that there could be additional demonstrations around Paris and in other major cities in France.
The embassy advises that U.S. citizens avoid demonstrations and areas with increased police activity and monitor the news for updates (English-language French media outlets include France 24, RFI, and The Local). The locations of protests are not often known in advance, so it’s important to stay up to date on the latest.
As of May 12, 2023, the U.S. State Department’s France Travel Advisory remains unchanged at a Level 2 (indicating that travelers should continue to exercise increased caution). The U.S. Embassy cites the reasons as terrorism and civil unrest.
What should you do if you’re traveling to France? The U.S. State Department recommends that U.S. citizens in France “avoid areas around protests and demonstrations” as “past demonstrations have turned violent . . . in case of violence or property damage, French authorities may use chemical agents and water cannons to disperse crowds.” It also notes that “strikes can interfere with travel plans.”
For additional assistance, contact the U.S. Embassy in Paris at +33 (1) 43 12 22 22 or CitizenInfo@state.gov.
Are flights to France, transportation services, and other businesses affected by the protests?
Those with upcoming travel to Paris or elsewhere in France might be wondering how and whether their trip could be disrupted by the protests.
Among those that have been walking out on the job have been air traffic controllers, which most recently planned strike actions on May 1 and 2. As a result, the French Civil Aviation Authority asked all airlines to reduce their flight schedules to and from Paris Orly airport and several other French airports on May 1 and May 2.
During the strike, Air France operated all of its long-haul flights, all flights to and from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, and about 70 percent of flights between Paris-Orly and other French airports. Passengers who experienced a flight cancellation due to strike activity could opt for either a future flight credit or a full refund, according to Air France.
During strike actions, “last-minute delays and cancellations cannot be ruled out,” Air France said.
Another round of air traffic controller strikes has not yet been announced or scheduled but shouldn’t be ruled out by travelers.
In addition to worker strikes that can affect services such as public transport systems, the ongoing protests in France can create traffic and transportation congestion and service interruptions in and around major cities, including potential delays in travel between downtown and the main Paris airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly.
Crisis24 advises travelers to confirm all transportation reservations. “Do not check out of accommodations until onward travel is confirmed,” the firm notes, adding that travelers should allow extra time for travel in major French cities.
As of press time, major museums and attractions in Paris, including the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, and Sacré Coeur, remain open to visitors during regular operating hours—although the Louvre and Eiffel Tower have both temporarily closed during protests, so be sure to check daily with regards to opening hours and operations.
What does it feel like on the ground in Paris right now?
To get a sense of what it feels like in Paris amid all the protests, we reached out to our contributing writer who lives there.
Lindsey Tramuta, a freelance writer and frequent AFAR contributor based in Paris, says, “Right now, we’re kind of waiting to see if there will be additional strikes—including by the sanitation workers—but [aside from the June 6 demonstration] nothing is confirmed yet.”
On the average day in Paris, “it feels fine on the ground, honestly,” says Tramuta. “I would recommend travelers keep following the news about it and if and when there are additional strikes or demonstrations planned, which are announced in advance, that they avoid those areas.” Otherwise, she says, “nothing major to report.”
What are the 2023 Paris protests about?
The current protests in Paris and throughout France are the most significant uprisings since the Yellow Vests Movement (named after the fluorescent vests protesters wore during the demonstrations), which began in late 2018 and continued into early 2019. Back then, French people were opposed to President Macron’s fuel tax hike (instituted to reduce emissions) and to the government’s economic policies and the high cost of living.
In 2023, French citizens are outraged once again—this time that Macron’s government implemented Article 49.3 of the Constitution to pass a bill without a vote in the Assemblée Nationale that pushes back the retirement age from 62 to 64 for most workers and requires that citizens have worked for at least 43 years in order to access a full pension. The global average retirement age in 2020 was 64.2 for men and 63.4 for women, according to the most recent data available from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
President Macron explained the reasoning behind the new policy, stating, “People know that yes, on average, you have to work a little longer . . . because otherwise we won’t be able to finance our pensions properly,” the Associated Press reported.
But as Lisa Bryant of NPR’s Morning Edition notes, “The French are fiercely protective of their universal health care and generous pensions. It’s a choice society has made: Work hard, pay high taxes, but also retire at a relatively young age with a high standard of living.”
Further to that, “The crux of the resistance to this reform has been about the right to rest in the later stages of life, not about an unwillingness to work, though it’s easy for outsiders to interpret the complaints that way, ” Tramuta recently wrote in an Instagram post.
In a follow-up email, she adds, “More crucially, tied up in this is also a minimum number of contributing years to even be eligible for the full pension—43 years. Slight tweaks to account for women who take time off to rear children or for whom pensions were already unequal to those of men still put them at a loss in the reform.”
With nearly 70 percent of the population against the reform, notes Tramuta, “The way this has been handled is seen as wildly undemocratic, thus the continued anger.”
When will the 2023 protests in France end?
Crisis24 estimates that the nationwide protests and strikes in France are likely to continue at least into mid-May.
“The demonstrations have become increasingly intense and frequently violent after the president invoked Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, enabling the government to pass the pension reform without requiring a vote in the National Assembly. On April 14, the Constitutional Council partially approved the pension reform plan, after which the president signed the increased pension age into law,” the agency stated.
Labor unions and opposition parties have led 13 days of national general strikes since January 19. The June 6 demonstrations will be the 14th day of national protests.
This story was originally published on March 21, 2023, and has been updated to include current information.