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In France, pot-and-pan protests besiege Macron and his ministers

Unions have called another march for June 6. In the meantime, government officials are being greeted at every public event with loud banging that’s quickly become a symbol of the fight against pension reform

Protests France
A protester bangs on a pot in Paris on April 24.TELMO PINTO / ZUMA PRESS / CONTACTOPHOTO (TELMO PINTO / ZUMA PRESS / CONTA)

After the massive May Day demonstrations that took place across France against the government’s pension reform, unions are now wondering how to keep up the momentum. What is the best way to keep alive a protest against a law that has already been enacted and expected to be applied in the fall?

At a meeting held this Tuesday to answer this question, the eight main unions agreed to call another day of strikes and demonstrations for June 6, two days before the National Assembly is due to discuss and vote on an initiative by a group of regionalist lawmakers that aims to repeal the reform.

But there is still a month left to go before June 6, and it will be difficult for pension reform to keep dominating the French political agenda as it has done since January. This would be detrimental to the unions but a profound relief for President Emmanuel Macron and his ministers, who badly want to turn the page on this issue and get the country talking about something else.

Saucepan tactics

The unions have a resource that has proven successful in recent weeks and that they will not hesitate to continue using: the saucepan. The idea is simple. For the past 15 days, every public event attended by ministers, state secretaries and, of course, by the president himself has drawn groups of people armed with saucepans, frying pans, small pots and even brass milk jugs that they bang with a ladle or a stick.

It all started on April 17, when Macron, days after promulgating the law that will extend the retirement age from 62 to 64 years, was preparing to make a televised address. Opponents of the law decided to meet at the time of the address in the town hall squares of their respective cities, saucepan and spoon in hand, to make noise while the president spoke about the need for national reconciliation.

The proliferation of these loud “concerts” has already caused ministers and state secretaries to cancel speaking events to avoid being drowned out by the pots and pans. The newspaper Le Monde reported on April 30 that several appearances had recently been canceled to escape the opprobrium, including those by Charlotte Caubel, Secretary of State for Children, in Val-de-Marne; Bérangère Couillard, Minister of Ecology, in Charente-Maritime, and Sébastien Lecornu, Minister of Defense. Other officials are choosing to make last-minute venue changes to avoid the saucepan commandos.

In this way, the saucepan has become a symbol of the opposition to Macron’s pension reform. At the May 1 demonstration, many people showed up with pots and pans in their hands. There were also numerous posters and banners alluding to them. Towards the end of the march, at Place de la Nation, as hundreds of policemen were confronting young radicals in one of the most tense and violent moments of the day, someone showed up waving a giant cardboard saucepan and stood between the Gendarmes and the extremists.

Meanwhile, even Ikea has made the most of the moment, releasing an ad for a stainless steel saucepan for €12.99 with the following sales line: “At this price, it could make some noise.”

Macron himself alluded to the saucepans on a visit to Alsace on April 19. He did it in his own way, sounding a little bit pedantic and stuffy: “It’s not going to be saucepans that will make France move forward.” Shortly after that, the French kitchenware company Cristel replied on his Twitter account with a black-and-white photo of a worker in overalls holding a shiny saucepan in his hand, and the following message dedicated to Macron: “Mr. President, at Cristel we make saucepans that do move France forward.”

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