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Strikes Sweep France

On “Black Thursday,” everything from schools to trains to deliveries will be impacted as workers fight a proposed pension plan.

By , a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews.
A cyclist rides past a boarded up bank in Paris.
A cyclist rides past a boarded up bank in Paris.
A cyclist rides past a bank with boarded up windows located on the route of a demonstration on the eve of nationwide strikes and protests against a pension reform plan in Paris on Jan. 18. ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at millions of people striking in France, a looming constitutional crisis in Israel, and Jacinda Ardern’s surprise resignation in New Zealand.

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“Black Thursday” Hits France

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at millions of people striking in France, a looming constitutional crisis in Israel, and Jacinda Arderns surprise resignation in New Zealand.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


“Black Thursday” Hits France

Millions of people are set to strike today across France. Unions and protesters have called for strikes in response to the government’s plan to reform the pension system so workers pay into it for a longer period. French President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to raise the official retirement age from 62 to 64, but he will not manage to do so without major national pushback.

In todays strike action, schools are set to close, as up to 75 percent of teachers plan to participate. Most trains and flights are expected to be canceled, and delivery companies and oil refineries are expected to be impacted too.

Union leaders have managed to put aside their differences to fight the pension plan, describing Thursday as the “first day of mobilization.” More than 200 protests are expected across the country. One hard-line union threatened to cut electricity to lawmakers and billionaires ahead of the protests.

This is Macron’s second proposed retirement plan. The first was also met with widespread protests but was suspended in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Polls show that most French people think pensions need to be adjusted but not in the way the government proposes; 68 percent of the population opposes Macrons plan.

The government, meanwhile, has vowed it will not back down, meaning that Macron and French workers are set up for a protracted struggle.


What We’re Following Today 

Israeli Supreme Court says minister unfit. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Aryeh Deri, leader of the Sephardic Orthodox party Shas, was not fit to serve as a minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition government. (Netanyahu recently appointed him health and interior minister.) Deri had previously been convicted of tax fraud.

Ten of the court’s 11 judges ruled against the appointment and said Deri should be removed. In her decision, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut ruled, “This is a person who has been convicted three times of offenses throughout his life, and he violated his duty to serve the public loyally and lawfully while serving in senior public positions.” Following the ruling, Netanyahu went to visit Deri at home in Jerusalem, saying, “When my brother is in distress, I come to him.”

Deri, for his part, warned, “The people will judge and see for themselves,” and “If they close the door on us, we’ll come in through the window. If they close the window, we’ll break in through the ceiling.” In a statement, Shas wrote, “[T]he court which presumes to look after minorities, tossed away the voice and vote of 400,000 Shas voters.”

Wednesday’s ruling took place amid a broader showdown between the government and the Supreme Court. Yariv Levin, the new justice minister, has put forth a plan to weaken Israel’s judicial system—a plan that Hayut warned would be a “fatal blow” to Israels democracy. Roughly 80,000 people protested against the judicial reform plan in Tel Aviv, Israel, last weekend. It is unclear whether Netanyahu will respect the Supreme Court’s decision and what will happen if he doesn’t.

Church of England blocks same-sex marriage. Following five years of debate, Church of England bishops announced they will refuse same-sex marriage and continue to teach that marriage is between “one man and one woman for life,” even while offering an apology to LGBTQ people for “rejection, exclusion and hostility” they have faced because of the church.

Instead of recognizing same-sex marriage, the church said it would offer services, including “prayers of dedication, thanksgiving or for Gods blessing on the couple in church following a civil marriage or partnership.” Blessings will be voluntary for clergy, and those opposed can opt out. The decision was denounced by LGBTQ activists.

Thirty-nine people charged over storming of Brazilian buildings. Brazil’s prosecutor-general has announced the first charges in the storming of Brazilian government buildings on Jan. 8. Brazilian authorities also asked that the 39 people charged be imprisoned. They were charged with armed criminal association, trying to violently subvert democracy, damaging public property, and attempting to stage a coup. Brazilian authorities argue that the goal of those storming the buildings was ultimately the installation of a new government. More people are expected to be charged.


Keep an Eye On

New Zealand’s next prime minister. New Zealands prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced her resignation on Thursday, saying, “I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.” She plans to step down no later than Feb. 7. The Australian Labor Party will elect a new leader, and national elections will be held in October.

While Labor holds a lead in current polls, the party is at its lowest point since Ardern took power in 2017, and suddenly losing a popular leader could further dent its popularity. “I hope I leave New Zealanders with a belief that you can be kind but strong, empathetic but decisive, optimistic but focused,” Ardern said. “And that you can be your own kind of leader—one who knows when it’s time to go.”

Investigation underway in Ukraine. An investigation has been opened into the helicopter crash in Ukraine that killed at least 14 people, including Denys Monastyrsky, a longtime ally of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukraine’s interior minister. Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the interior ministry, wrote on Telegram, “We will soon find out whether it was sabotage, a technical malfunction or a violation of flight safety rules.”

Activists say Iran fast-tracking trials. The BBC reports that sources have said protesters on trial are given mere minutes to defend themselves and that authorities are using what are effectively show trials to try to instill fear in protesters. Sources also say state-appointed lawyers act as additional interrogators rather than working to defend their clients.

Ressa acquitted. Philippine Nobel Prize winner Maria Ressa and her news outlet were cleared of tax evasion charges. The Court of Tax Appeals found that prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ressa and Rappler Holdings Corporation had indeed evaded taxes. In a statement, Rappler said, “We thank the court for this just decision and for recognizing that the fraudulent, false, and flimsy charges made by the Bureau of Internal Revenue do not have any basis in fact.”


Wednesday’s Most Read

Tanks, but No Tanks by Jack Detsch and Amy Mackinnon

Washington Might Let South Korea Have the Bomb by Doug Bandow

Iran’s Protests Are Nowhere Near Revolutionary by Sajjad Safaei


Odds and Ends 

Over and oink. A Canadian investigative outlet focused on the environment, the Narwhal, has reported that wild pigs are aiming to take over the country.

Emily Tamkin is a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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