LYON – In France, even lawyers go on strike.
Magistrates draped their black robes on the staircase leading to Lyon's main courthouse Monday to protest the government's plans to end the special retirement system for lawyers and others who work in the legal sector. Others arranged weighty legal tomes on the floor to spell “SOS.”
The walkout is part of a nationwide movement to stop President Emmanuel Macron from overhauling the French pension system, an ambitious but clumsily handled reform that has been stymied by 40 days of strikes.
Over the weekend, Macron's prime minister offered to compromise on the most divisive part of the plan — raising the age to be eligible for a full pension from 62 to 64. But that major concession wasn't enough to satisfy unions, whose toughest members want the government to scrap the reform altogether.
Lawyers in every jurisdiction of France joined the strike starting Thursday, and trials around the country have been delayed as a result, extending jail time for defendants. Lawyers kept up their walkout Monday, disrupting France's biggest clergy sex abuse trial to date, that of a former priest accused of abusing some 75 Boy Scouts.
Train workers are keeping up the pressure too. While the number of strikers and disrupted train lines is down since the strike began Dec. 5, few Paris subways were running normally Monday, and many national and international trains were canceled or delayed.
In addition to raising the retirement age to save money — as most other rich countries have done amid rising life expectancy — Macron wants to streamline France's 42 different state-managed retirement regimes.
The government is meeting Monday with lawyers' representatives to discuss the legal sector's concerns.
In the Lyon courthouse, lawyer Serge Deygas said the reform means he and his colleagues will have to pay higher taxes and take home smaller pensions.
That “is prompting big concerns for small, lower-income law firms," who will have to raise rates to make ends meet, which in turn “compromises access to legal assistance for the most impoverished,” he told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Alain Robert, the French Spiderman who scales the world’s tallest buildings, climbed a skyscraper in Paris' La Defense business district Monday to call attention to the retirement protests.
Angela Charlton and Oleg Cetinic in Paris contributed to this report.