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General Strike in France Is Fresh Test for Emmanuel Macron

Instead, Mr. Macron’s idea is to merge all these disparate systems, public and private, into one state-managed system in which workers accumulate points over the course of a working life and then cash them in.

His instinct is always to rationalize and he says his system will be fairer, though there are concerns that his changes will mean less for some.

Hervé Boulhol, a pensions specialist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said that, as things stand, “We’ve got a panorama that’s extremely disparate, with lots of different rules.” Mr. Macron is proposing “a very ambitious reform,” Mr. Boulhol said. “We’re changing the way of calculating pension rights.”

But although many in France worship the rational, it is also a country that loves street protest and hates change, particularly in a moment full of fear over globalization and climate change. Previous governments have foundered on the third rail of French politics, the pensions system.

“It’s not right that you do the same work, and your neighbor retires earlier, the calculation is different,” Mr. Macron said at a public meeting in Rodez in central France this fall. “So this has created suspicion in regard to our pension system, so today people find that it is more or less unfair, and more and more, people have doubts about it.”

But they appear to have even more doubts about Mr. Macron’s changes. “The amount of pension, for everybody, is going to go down,” said Benoît Martin, a senior official with the General Confederation of Labor, a left-leaning union that is leading the charge on Thursday. He added, “The number of retirees is going to go up, but they’re not talking about spending more on pensions.”

“It’s going to be a lot more haphazard, this way of getting points,” Mr. Martin said. “When there’s periods of little work, the number of points will be low.”

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