paris garbage
More than 7,000 tonnes of foul-smelling rubbish and waste continued to pile up in Paris, blocking doorways and pavements, as refuse collectors extended their nine-day strike for at least another five days in protest at Emmanuel Macron's plan to increase the retirement age.

With bin lorries grounded at depots and at least three waste incinerators in the Paris area at a standstill, the national government and the capital's socialist-run city hall were engaged in a bitter standoff over rotting debris in the city.

The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, instructed the Paris police chief to make city hall force bin collectors to break their strike and go back to work. But the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said that while the city was working on its own solutions for urgent cases, it supported the strikes against pension changes.

The deputy mayor in charge of waste, Colombe Brossel, said any demand to force strikers back to work would be "an attack on the constitutional right to strike".

Rubbish collectors and drivers opposed their retirement age being raised from 57 to 59, the CGT union said.

Macron's proposals to raise the general retirement age from 62 to 64, and increase the number of years of work required to claim a full pension, have resulted in two months of protests and cross-sector strikes. The government hopes parliament can vote on the proposals on Thursday.

Comment: As we'll see below, the pension reform was just the last straw. In the same way that the two-year long Yellow Vest protests ignited following a fuel price hike. Indeed, these protests are, according to French media, a continuation of those protests against plummeting living standards and a government that appears to be unconcerned about what citizens are suffering through.

Rubbish has piled up in about half of Paris's arrondissements since 6 March, as municipal teams went on strike but some private contractors continued to work. Bins were also overflowing in Antibes on the Mediterranean coast, where warm spring weather caused pungent smells, and in other cities including Rennes and Le Havre.

In the 14th arrondissement in southern Paris, Caroline Chesnay stood in her furniture shop looking at the pavement outside, which was almost totally blocked by a towering pile of bin bags spewing pizza boxes, banana skins, drink cartons and food waste. "Soon it's going to look like the leaning tower of Pisa - by Saturday customers won't actually be able to open the door," she said. "It's a nightmare. I'm afraid there will be rats soon. First we had Covid, now the plague. I'm losing income. I just want this to be cleared straight away. It's a fire risk. Soon it will be spreading right across the street, blocking cars."

Brigitte, an elderly neighbour, said it was hard to walk along the pavement, slaloming the refuse mountains. "I have to take my husband's arm. It's perilous."

Waste spreading across pavements near schools and restaurants included food packages and used period products. At a butcher's shop, Patricia said it was not good to have split bin bags and food waste piling up outside a business selling food. "But we just have to put up with it. They're on strike for good reason."

Younis, who worked at a southern Paris fishmonger's shop, said: "We're keeping the worst waste from gutted fish in our own fridge facilities for the time being because that stuff would really reek if we left it outside. But soon we'll run out of space. I still support the strikers demanding their rights."

Outside one private creche on the Left Bank, parents with babies in pushchairs had to work their way past a 10-metre stretch of piled-up bin bags rising so high they were obscuring part of the creche's windows. Paul, a lawyer in his 30s, dropping off his two-year-old daughter, said: "I've seen a lot of rats. We already had a rat issue in the city - we had rats in our building six months ago and in one local square you see them scuttling around in large numbers after dark."

In the narrow streets of the sixth arrondissement, some building entrances were almost totally blocked by piles of bin bags reaching well above the ornate wooden doorways. Anne-Marie, 68, a singer and former dancer, said it was sobering to see the sheer scale of rubbish produced by the city: "I've been trying to create as little rubbish as I can, but I've got no choice but to bring my bin bag down and add it to the pile. I voted for Emmanuel Macron and I support his pension change. But for rubbish collectors, I do understand their concerns and why they're doing this."

Outside La Gentilhommière restaurant, mountains of refuse sacks nudged the edge of the outdoor dining area. "It's disgusting," said a member of staff, who preferred not to be named. "Customers aren't coming in."

Paris tourist authorities argued that visitor numbers would not be affected.

Two tourists from Boston squeezed out of a Left Bank doorway between a tunnel of piled-up garbage. "I deliberately didn't send my mum any photos showing this, but she saw it on the BBC," one said.