May Day Protests Turn Violent in France Over Retirement Age Changes

On May Day 2023, French police clashed with protesters as trade unions transformed the traditional Labour Day marches into anti-government demonstrations against the recent rise in the retirement age. According to reports, there were instances of violence and destruction in at least three cities, namely Paris, Lyon, and Marseille.[0] An estimated 108 police officers were injured as some protesters hurled Molotov cocktails and other projectiles, while police, armed with helmets and riot shields, attempted to disperse violent demonstrators with tear gas.[0] A minimum of 291 individuals were apprehended.[0] Unions in the country had expected hundreds and thousands of people to come out to show their support on the first May Day since President Emmanuel Macron's controversial pensions reforms, which raised the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030.

May Day this year was much more than the usual celebration of workers and labour rights, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets of the capital in a new show of anger against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, which was forced through parliament in March.[1] The government's pension reform is a landmark policy of President Emmanuel Macron and requires people to work 43 years to receive a full pension, among other changes to the system. Prior to the latest changes, French employees were permitted to retire at 62 years old, although this did not ensure a complete pension unless they had accumulated enough work experience and made contributions. However, Macron has successfully raised the retirement age to 64.[2]

Unions sought to use the traditional workers’ day march as a moment to voice the nation’s anger over the pension law.[3] The march in Paris, which started at the Place de la Republique, saw police pelted with projectiles and ride-sharing bicycles torched and bus stops smashed up.[4] On the edges of the march as it passed through Paris’s 11th arrondissement, police fired tear gas and clashed with groups of young men dressed in black.[5] Projectiles, bins, and petrol bombs were thrown at police.[5] A petrol bomb caused serious injury to an officer, who received treatment for burns at the hospital.[5]

In Lyon and Nantes, some vehicles were set on fire, and business premises were trashed.[4] A hotel in Marseille was briefly taken over by protesters until law enforcement intervened and forced them out.[0] Tear gas was also fired in Toulouse and Rennes.[5] The recently introduced law will result in an increase in the retirement age from 62 to 64, causing a series of protests to erupt.[6] May Day, which falls on May 1, is observed in many countries around the world as a day to celebrate labourers and the working classes with marches and other events.[7]

May Day this year was the first time since 2009 that all eight of France’s main unions joined in calling for protests. Members of each union followed the white vans decorated with bright, colorful balloons as they journeyed to Place de la Nation.[8] In Paris, Lyon, Rennes, and Nantes, protesters clashed with police as demonstrations turned violent.[2] During the protest, demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails and fireworks while vandalizing bus stops and burning ride-sharing bikes, leading to clashes with the French police who deployed tear gas.[9] The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, condemned the violence calling for the majority of peaceful demonstrators to stand up against the small minority who were violent.

0. “Hundreds detained in fiery May Day demonstrations across France” UPI News, 2 May. 2023,

1. “Anger Against Macron Spills Onto Streets of Paris on May Day” Bloomberg, 1 May. 2023,

2. “How do retirees in France really fare?” Al Jazeera English, 27 Apr. 2023,

3. “French Protesters March Against Macron's Pension Overhaul on May Day” The Wall Street Journal, 1 May. 2023,

4. “Labour Day protests, strikes take over France, Italy, Netherlands” Al Jazeera English, 1 May. 2023,

5. “At least 108 police injured and 291 held in May Day protests in cities across France” The Guardian, 1 May. 2023,

6. “France: Activists likely to stage protests and strikes nationwide into early May after Constitutional Council approves …” Crisis24, 26 Apr. 2023,

7. “France protests: Hundreds arrested and police officers injured in May Day clashes” Sky News, 1 May. 2023,

8. “May Day march against pension reform: Protesters determined to ‘give it our all'” FRANCE 24 English, 1 May. 2023,

9. “Police use tear gas at May Day protest in Paris” Fox News, 1 May. 2023,

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