Protests close Louvre museum in Paris amid pension strikes

Dozens of protesters blocked the entrance to the Louvre museum and forced the famous Paris landmark to close Friday while they denounced the French government’s plans to overhaul the pension system.

Protesters later chased down President Emmanuel Macron at an evening theatre performance in northern Paris. Video showed protesters chanting and some entering a door as surprised police tried to hold them back. A black car reportedly carrying Macron then sped away under a hail of boos.

An edgy tension marked the day as small but determined groups of protesters moved into action to make their complaints against pension changes heard. It was the 44th day of strikes aimed at overturning the plan.

The protesters at the Louvre, who included some museum employees, staged the demonstration against Macron’s proposals after several hard-left trade unions appealed for public actions to oppose a plan that they said would “lower everyone’s pensions.”

The museum’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibit marking the 500th anniversary of the Italian master’s death was included in the closure. Some protesters chanted, “Mona Lisa is on strike, Leonardo is on strike.”

A crowd watches striking musicians perform outside the Palais Garnier opera house Saturday. As some strikers return to work, with notable improvements for train services that have been severely disrupted for weeks, more radical protesters are trying to keep the movement going. (Thibault Camus/The Associated Press)

It is the first time since railway strikes and protests against the pension overhaul began on Dec. 5 that the Louvre and its da Vinci exhibit were fully shut down. About 30,000 people visit the museum every day.

Visitors express frustration, disappointment

Some videos on social media showed angry visitors booing at museum protesters to express their disappointment. Some of those shut out of the Louvre were upset, while a few interviewed expressed solidarity with the strikers.

“I think it’s fine if they want to protest but they shouldn’t block the plans of the people who have flown over here to see an exhibition of Leonardo,” said Ben Garrett of Dallas.

Gerhard Jehle of Germany, who had bought his ticket in advance, shared that view, and said he was “badly informed about the extent of the strike.”

Visitors wait as striking employees demonstrate Friday. (Francois Mori/The Associated Press)

“I don’t understand how this happens,” Jehle said. “Public transport doesn’t function. The unions have to be controlled with an iron hand.”

Argentinian Marcelo Campano, who also had a ticket, said that he understands workers’ bid to confront a government they perceive as “neo-liberal … So we’ll show our solidarity and come back another day.”

The action at the Louvre was one of several signs of mounting tensions among strikers.

Several dozen people on Friday invaded the headquarters of the CFDT union, which is favourable to a point system Macron wants to put in place to determine retirement benefits.

The invaders were seen on video singing and mocking the union’s leader. Macron condemned the action as violent, unacceptable and “shameful for our democracy.”

Weeks of disruption

In a more playful bid for attention, dozens of lawyers opposing the president’s proposed pension reforms put on a dance show in Versailles wearing their black robes.

Unions have called for a seventh round of street marches next Friday, when the contested pension plan is to be presented to the cabinet.

Striking workers march during a demonstration in Paris on Jan. 9. (Thibault Camus/The Associated Press)

The weeks of strikes and protests have hobbled public transportation and disrupted schools, hospitals, courthouses and even opera houses and the Eiffel Tower. Major French retailers Fnac Darty and Casino said that business in France has been badly affected by the strikes, especially during the holiday season.

Fnac Darty said the strikes cost it around 70 million euros ($101 million Cdn) in lost revenue. Casino cut its forecast for earnings growth in France, where it does more than half its business, to five per cent in 2019, from a previous 10 per cent.

The company estimates that the strikes in December cost it about 80 million euros ($116 million Cdn) in lost revenue. Shares in both companies were down by more than five per cent.

The prime minister’s office said earlier this week that the SNCF train authority and the RATP, which runs public transport, had lost over a billion euros since the start of the strike.

Trains have suffered most, so far losing some 850 million euros ($1.2 billion Cdn). While the number of striking workers has diminished since the movement, the country’s trains and the Paris subway were still disrupted Friday.