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French Pension Protests Shut Down Navigation on Upper Rhine

The Marckholsheim lock complex on the Rhine (Thomas Berwing / CC BY SA 4.0)

On Wednesday, French police moved to eject union members who occupied a lock complex on the Rhine to protest national pension reforms. The shutdown delayed dozens of vessels, including at least 25 that had been waiting since Monday, according to local media. 

At about 1000 hours on Wednesday, several hundred members of the French union CGT arrived at the Marckolsheim lock complex, south of Strasbourg at the French-German border. The unionists joined comrades who regularly operate the lock and barricaded the gates from the inside. Their demand was an audience with a high-level government official, preferably a prefect or a minister, according to Alsace news outlet DNA.

By 1300, large numbers of riot police from France’s Republican Security Corps (CRS) began to congregate at the locks, and at 1400 a mass police force entered the site and escorted out the protesters, including a few remaining individuals on the roof and the lock chamber walls. The operation was largely peaceful and was finished by 1500, according to local media, and navigation resumed later in the day. 

The CGT has launched nationwide protests over President Emanuel Macron’s proposal to increase the national retirement age from 62 to 64. For France’s left wing, structural modifications to pension benefits are a red line, and between one and three million people have taken to the streets in recent days to protest the change. Railways, refineries, public transit and roadways have all been affected by the protest actions. 

The locks at Marckolsheim are about 50 river miles north of Basel, near the far upper end of the Rhine’s navigable waters. The Rhine is one of the most important inland waterways in Europe, and it provides a critical industrial transport link for movements of oil, coal, grain, chemicals and minerals. 

Top image: The Marckholsheim lock complex on the Rhine (Thomas Berwing / CC BY SA 4.0)

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