France Revolts Against ‘Pension Reform’


France Revolts Against ‘Pension Reform’

Aishik Saha

The French working class has resurrected the memory of the Gillets Jaunes movement in a historic strike jointly organized by the trade unions against the plans to raise the retirement age by two years from 62 to 64. The interior ministry estimates that 1.2 million people have taken part in the strike on the 19th of January which has been dubbed ‘Black Thursday’, while the unions have claimed that over 3 million people have participated in the strike.

The Macron government has argued that with people living longer ages, the current retirement age is no longer feasible since it would eventually lead to an increased number of pensioners. This had been a contentious issue and Macron himself indicated that he was open to dialogue on the issue during his re-election campaign last year.

The government, despite losing its majority in the general election last June, is stubbornly refusing to back down on its plans. They are callously asking workers to not paralyze the country and instead of addressing their concerns, they are counting on the conservative Les Républicains party to push the measure through parliament without any regard for the people's voices. As a last resort, the government has threatened to use a constitutional measure known as 49:3 to pass the legislation without any regard for a parliamentary debate or vote, effectively silencing the voices of the people and disregarding their needs and concerns.

The strike made its impact felt on virtually every sector of the French economy. In primary schools upto 70% of teachers participated in the strike. Local and regional train services across France was brought to a standstill and public transportation was highly disrupted. Over 200 demonstrations enforced the strike action with the police clashing with the workers in an attempt to prevent the strike from going through.

The proposals themselves are considered to be universally unpopular amongst the working class with an IFOP poll suggesting that 68% of the French were against the proposals. France has a history of mass strikes against attempts by the government to curtail the rights of workers. In 1995, the French government, led by President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Alain Juppé, attempted to introduce a universal pension system and eliminate the various special regimes enjoyed by public sector workers. This proposal sparked widespread protests and strikes, with an estimated two million people taking to the streets. As a result of the protests, the government dropped the proposed changes. In 2010, President Nicolas Sarkozy raised the retirement age from 60 to 62, with a full pension for those who had worked a minimum of 41.5 years. The decision led to a week of strikes, blockading of oil refineries and nationwide protests.

The challenge for the unions, if they are up to the task, is to galvanize the protests into a mass social movement that aims to reverse the direction of neoliberal ‘reforms’ that have continuously squeezed the working class in France.