Photos and stories from French pension reform protests

Follow the strikes and protests against pension reform in France live, thanks to our Observers on the ground across the country. Most are taking place in a peaceful, even fun atmosphere, but in some cities rioting youths have clashed with police and security forces.

If you are a trade unionist, student, retired person or activist, in favour of or against the strikes, and have photos, videos or eyewitness accounts, please contact us by e-mail at

LYON - 5 p.m.

    Photos of smashed-in shop windows on rue Victor Hugo, in Lyon, sent by Joe Broadhurst. Rioters vandalised and looted the shops earlier in the afternoon.

    LYON - 4 p.m.

    Photos sent by our Observer Louis-Marie Charpentier, a student in Lyon, along with this comment:

    Things got out of hand this morning in Lyon. The shopping street Victor Hugo was vandalised, shop windows were smashed in and several stores were looted, including a jewellery store and a shoe shop. Police and rioters have been facing off around Bellecour square for several hours. A surveillance helicopter is now flying over the city."
    Students at Sciences-Po Lyon held a general assembly to determine whether or not to block their university building in coming days.


    NICE - 3:15 p.m.

    Protesters in Nice dressed as medieval executioners holding a "coffin" carrying the pension reform they are going to "bury". On the side of the coffin is a photomontage of Labour Minister Eric Woerth caricatured as a lying Pinocchio. Photo posted on Twitpic by deadrising06.


    DRAGUIGNAN - 3 p.m.

    A peaceful, multi-union march took off in central Draguignan early in the afternoon. Video posted on YouTube by cgtcad.



    Protests against the reform have reached the Pacific Island of La Réunion, a French overseas department.  Video posted on YouTube by clicanooVideo.

    NANCY - Circa 11 a.m.

    Our Observer Anne-Laure Blin took these photos from the window of flat in rue de Lorraine, Nancy, and posted them on Twitpic. Police clashed with student protesters there earlier. "My poor street, they really ravaged it ;-)", she tweeted, adding that "students pulled back after provoking the police".

    LYON - 12 a.m.

    Our Observer Joe Broadhurst, a website designer in Lyon,  sent us photos and videos he shot with his mobile phone while heading to work this morning. He gave us this account:

    The lycéens [high school students] started marching at the Lyon Opera house at 10 a.m. this morning, then went south towards Bellecour square, torching at least two cars, flipping over a small flatbed truck and smashing windows at the bus stops. The police are in a stand-off with the kids at Lafayette and République streets.

    The police are chasing kids out of Bellecour park, where they had been burning tyres and trash cans. Police are firing tear gas and charging. They seem to be trying to push the kids out of the park entirely. The kids at Bellecour are running away and dispersing, but a larger column of protesters is heading south, crossing a bridge across the Rhône.”

    This video took place around noon at Antonin Poncet square. Teenagers began to surround the police and hit them with rock and bottles. Eventually, the police were chased through Bellecour park, and when the crowd finally reached them, they tear-gassed the north side of the park, clearing the west side of the park. The kids then retreated west into Old Lyon, and the police followed."

    SAINT-DENIS, 10 a.m.

    These photos were posted by university professor Baptiste Coulmont on his blog. They were taken at Paris XVIII University in Saint Denis, a working-class suburb north of Paris, in the morning of October 19. Coulmont writes:

    Paris XVIII is completely blocked this morning, it was impossible for anyone to get in. The main banner hung across the entrance [top photo] seems to be well-used: I think I recognise it from protests in 2009! There are new signs as well, like these."

    Saint-Denis is part of the French administrative department Seine Saint-Denis, postal code 93, or 9-3 as is it familiarly known. Christophe Duman, a high school student in the suburb of Gonesses, in the neighbouring department, sent us the photo of a flyer being passed around his school on October 19:


    The flyer reads:

    "I’m calling all high school students in the 9-3 to blockade and protest! We will force the state to back down! [...] We’re tired of being taken for granted: they talk about Paris and Lyon on TV, but who cares about the 9-3? No-one! [...] This is our chance to show them that we’re not nobodies! [...] We’re the best! We challenge them! Youth against the state! The reform will not pass!"



    Post written with FRANCE 24 journalists Paul Latourrotou and Lorena Galliot


    From Lyon, France

    As a foreigner living in France and especially as a teacher, my main concern is that the French youth are being manipulated by the opposition and the unions to go out into the streets. Fair enough, they are worried that ‘les vieux’ will hold on to their jobs that much longer and, in their opinion, maintain the high unemployement rate, but come on !! It is 2 years, 2 YEARS !!! They are still in high school and already they are worried about their retirement. And nothing condones the violence that has been seen in the streets recently, the capsizing and burning of cars, etc ; although admittedly this is by a small majority of troublemakers. When I think of my own father at 62, all he wants to do is continue working, keep busy, maintain self respect, AND he pays a substantial amount of taxes.
    The statistics say that 70% of the French support the strike. All I see is 70% of selfishness and unwillingness to work towards the future of the country. Don’t forget the 30% (in my opinion, it’s a lot more than that) that still continue to work, defying blockades and petrol shortages, truly believing that change is a necessity. It is not even as if those individuals with very physical jobs will be subject to the reforms. No! They will still be able to retire at 60, even earlier (sometimes 50 !) as compensation for their demanding manual activity.
    The way I see it, France has had it pretty cushy as far as austerity measures go. Although I may not agree with everything he does, if Sarkozy is any kind of good president, he will push through with these reforms, even if it costs him his reelection. A good president puts his country’s needs before his own.


    I don't understand. Why are the French students so stupid? Don't they know that the existing french retirement system was built on the foundation of one gigantic, intergenerational pyramid scheme - and that now the house of cards has finally collapsed (as was always inevitable)? Do they think that the government can repeal the laws of mathematics, which is the only way that retirement at age 60 is possible when people live another 25-30 years? Don't they know that the money does not exist to fund that type of system, which is why every other country is the world is moving toward a higher retirement age? Or do they think that the laws of mathematics and demographics for some magical reason do not apply within the borders of France. And where do they get this strange French idea that there is a limited number of jobs will be available - a fixed number that cannot be increased - so these jobs must be shared, which means there must be short work-weeks and early retirement in order to maximize the number of people who can hold those jobs? Why do young French people believe such stupidity?






    Je suis d,accord


    It's because the french genarally understand something the rest of the world seems to have forgotten....even if you don't actually totally agree with the cause, it is of absolute imperitive importance to get out there in the streets and support the ones who do.....otherwise it's an easy divide and conquer for the authorities...a bit like it's a whole big floating raft and if you let one beam be taken out, then another it is not long before the whole raft breaks apart....the people of the UK know this all too well when Maggie Thatcher took on Authur Scargill and the miners, few other came to support because they thought it was nothing to do with them and then of course once she had broken the miners she set about all the others one by one and they fell like scared sheep and the whole countries morale has never returned even after 30 years.

    Could not agree more with you

    Could not agree more with you (and I am French now living in the States). It is amazing how younger generation are so much thinking about retirement rather than thinking about entrepreneurship and wanting to create the business and ideas which will generate jobs. Why do they think they compete with a 62 year old worker for a job. These jobs are different anyways.
    The bigger problem and what is fundamentally wrong in France is how democracy is played out:
    Democracy is served with our (popular) votes electing the appropriate chambers of representatives, which represent the people. They are the ones responsible for edifying laws and rules which make us progress.
    Instead we always seem to sacrifice this very important principle and let the voice of few (certainly not by any means any type of majority) in the street always influence and flex the Powers to be. Demonstrating is a right but steering politics based on these demonstrations is a mistake. This is not why we elect government. For decades the government has been caving in to these partisan minorities. This is why we can't seem to make any kind of badly needed sweeping reforms in this country. Wake up France, smell the coffee....

    Are they thinking?

    Living in Paris, I only see the unions intentionally stirring up students to become violent. The students were not involved before this last round of strikes. I don't see the students actually thinking at all regarding any of the issues. The unions are using the "students" in a mob-mentality to foment as much violence as possible to be "heard" more. They count on strife to get their demands met -- regardless of the impact on the country, the hard-working French, the future of the country, etc.

    Watching the choppers circle Nanterre now...

    French are right!

    Its a shame for you to see this protest that way. LOok at Britain, the country is fucked. no offense, but thats the truth.
    your government is killing poor people by breeding and feeding capitalism in detriment of social services.

    Think once!
    The government has money! hard earn money of tax payers,
    lot of waste. Now Think, if everyone has the balls like French to say NO, then the world would have been different...

    I fully support and back the protest in France and there should be same in here to tell the government NO.

    These fat rich bankers who are responsible for the collapse of the international monetary/banking system, they will retire at 50 mostly. Think how old will you continue to kill yourself working maybe till 70. you have worked all your life, then you cannot have time to enjoy every breath you take as a retired person.

    Governments have money to pay for bankers/capitalist mistakes, therefore they have money for those who worked a lifetime, a decent pension.


    All the French need to know about givng in is to look and the USA and other caplitalist countries, and the seismic gap forming between the rich and poor. They know that the point is NOT that it's "just two years." The point is keeping their system of fair and respectful treatment of the working class alive. More power to them. I wish we could come together and display the same kind of courage and commitment. Instead, we get polititians threatening class warfare (yeah, and?) and the misguided Tea Party. Viva la Revolucion!

    The French are of

    The French are of the slogans chanted was 'we fought to get pensions and we will fight to defend them'. The English haveno memory and now knowledge of their history...were pensions just given by the generosity of the queen????

    Nothing but NOTHING was given, pensions, benefits, schools, NHS, libraries, the working week, safe working environments (H&S) pay rises, the vote...all was won by struggles

    and so now do we let them take them away without a fight?????

    Were our predecessors wrong to fight for these so we might enjoy them????

    The French fight back whilst the english pretend they are middle class until the p45 bailiffs and home repossession comes