As It Happens

French Spider-Man scales Paris skyscraper to tell Macron 'come back down to earth' over pension reform

Sixty-year-old free soloist Alain Robert travels the world scaling buildings. On Wednesday, the climber known as French Spider-Man, was arrested while protesting against a controversial pension reform law in France.

The 60-year-old free soloist has scaled many skyscrapers across the globe, often for a cause

A man in red stands atop a glass building holding his hands above his head in triumph.
Alain Robert, known as French Spider-Man, waves from top of the Tour Alto skyscraper at the financial and business district of La Defense, naming his feat The People, after climbing it in Courbevoie, near Paris on April 19, 2023. (Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters)
Alain Robert, the free solo climber known as French Spider-Man, is no stranger to being arrested for his daredevil climbs. It was no different on Wednesday when he scaled a 150-metre tall skyscraper to protest the country’s pension reform policy. “I've been jailed many times,” Robert told As It Happens host Nil Koksal, including China and Germany to name a few.

Alain Robert, the free solo climber known as French Spider-Man, is no stranger to being arrested for his daredevil climbs.

It was no different on Wednesday when he scaled a 150-metre tall skyscraper to protest the country's pension reform policy.

"I've been jailed many times," Robert told As It Happens host Nil Koksal. Robert has been arrested in both China and Germany, to name a few.

"Being in custody in Paris is really no big deal."

Robert, who uses no gear except his climbing shoes, has scaled buildings for a variety of causes, such as climate change or to encourage peace.

Despite the latest arrest — and it being a bit chilly at first — Robert said it was "quite an enjoyable climb."

A man pictured from above talking on a cellphone while perching high up on the side of a skyscraper.
Robert uses his mobile phone after climbing the 231-metre-high First Tower, the tallest skyscraper in France, on May 10, 2012. (Franck Fife/AFP/Getty)

Ongoing protests over pension reform

The 60-year-old climber mounted the building to show his support for those protesting controversial legislation that will increase France's retirement age from 62 to 64. 

"I'm here to tell Emmanuel Macron to come back down to earth ... by climbing with no safety net," Robert told Reuters.

The country has seen massive protests and strikes over the pension reform for the past three months, with hundreds of thousands of French citizens taking to the streets to make their voices heard.

Macron used special constitutional powers in mid-March to force the reform through, sidestepping a parliamentary vote. This inflamed the protests and triggered centrist MPs to table a vote of no confidence against Macron's government — which they survived by only nine votes.

France's constitutional court approved the reform last week, allowing Macron to officially sign the reform into law over the weekend.

Starting in September, the age of retirement will be raised incrementally, by three months each year, to eventually reach age 64 by 2030.

Protests on Wednesday and Thursday saw demonstrators target Paris' La Defense business district saying large companies must pay up to finance pensions.

"We are told that there is no money to finance pensions," said Sud-Rail unionist Fabien Villedieu. But there is "no need to get the money from the pockets of workers, there is some in the pockets of billionaires."

WATCH | Alain Robert scales a hotel in 2014:

'French Spider-Man' scales hotel

10 years ago
Duration 1:28
Alain Robert climbs Galaxy Macau Hotel's east tower to promote film

Robert, who saw the protests from his view atop the skyscraper, said at least some protesters still take to the streets each day.

While he loves his job as a climber and remains in good health, he's still hoping to access his pension in the near future. "My job is kind of a do or die job. It's not like working for the post office or being a deputy," Robert said.

But with the bill now signed into law, Robert says he's doubtful Macron will change course and listen to protesters.

"He doesn't care. He's living in a different space," the climber said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Abby Hughes

Journalist

Abby Hughes does a little bit of everything at CBC News in Toronto. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. You can reach her at abby.hughes@cbc.ca.

With files from Reuters. Interview with Alain Robert produced by Kate Swoger.