According to the French interior ministry, more than a million people have participated in a day of protests and strikes in opposition to government proposals to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Eighty thousand people demonstrated in the streets of Paris, and similar crowds showed up in two hundred other French cities. The reforms, which President Emmanuel Macron has deemed “just and responsible,” are, however, at a crossroads. As a result of the strikes, public transportation was severely disrupted and many schools were closed.
Train operators, government employees, and refinery workers all walked off the job in cities across France, including Nantes, Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille, and Toulouse. While the government estimates 1.12 million people participated in the demonstrations, Philippe Martinez, leader of the large CGT union, put the number at more than two million. They estimated that 400 thousand people participated in the largest march, which began at Paris’s Place de la République. The unions’ efforts paid off, so they’ve scheduled another day of protest for January 31.
In Paris, police were on high alert for possible violence from ultra-left “black bloc” infiltrators, but while 38 people were arrested, there were relatively few incidents of violence. Premier Élisabeth Borne lauded the “good conditions” of the protests, attributing them to both the police and the unions. There was only a skeleton service on the Paris Metro and on some rail lines only one in ten trains was running. The education ministry put the number of striking teachers at 35%, but the main secondary education union put it at 65%.
From 2027 on, the Prime Minister has proposed raising the current minimum retirement age from 42 to 43 years of service. While the government has defended the reform as necessary to protect France’s share-out pension system, a recent IFOP poll shows that the public is strongly against it. The leftist and far-right oppositions in the National Assembly, as well as all the unions in the country (including the so-called “reformist” unions the government had hoped to win over), have all spoken out against the measure.
Since President Macron’s Renaissance party does not have a majority in the Assembly, he will need to rely on the roughly 60 members of parliament who are Republicans. Although they are generally supportive of pension reform, some have signalled that they might vote against it. Mr. Macron faces a continuous campaign of opposition, as the parliamentary process is expected to take several weeks. It would be disastrous for the government if strikes spread to the transportation sector, healthcare facilities, and fuel distribution points, bringing the country to a complete halt.
If the president is forced to withdraw because of widespread opposition. That could spell the end of any significant changes he plans to make during his second term in office. Many people are anxious and irritable because of inflation, the energy crisis, and reports of deteriorating public services. The “yellow-vest” uprising four years ago was fueled in part by President Macron’s unfavourable reputation outside of the wealthy cities.
Many people, pollsters have found, are resigned to the fact that they no longer share the values of “old-school” social movements like the ones the unions champion. The prime minister’s justification for mandating longer work hours was based on the concept of “intergenerational solidarity.” Few French citizens have access to capital-investment-based individual pension plans. Instead, working people contribute to a central fund each month, and that fund is used to pay retirees’ pensions. Employees are assured they will continue to receive the same benefits in retirement.
During a nationwide day of strike and protests against the French government’s pension reform plan in Paris, the entrance to a metro station is seen to be closed. This is a part of the Paris transport network (RATP) workers’ strike. The government, however, warns that the system is doomed because the ratio of working people to retirees is rapidly shrinking. The ratio of working people to retirees has decreased from four to about one and a half over the past half century.
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Italy and Germany, for example, both have a retirement age of 67, while Spain’s is 65. This trend toward a later retirement age is shared by nearly all of Europe. Currently, that number in the UK is 66. When the Covid meteor shower hit in early 2020, President Macron abandoned an earlier and more ambitious attempt to reform the system. This second strategy was featured prominently in his campaign platform for re-election last year and was a major weapon in the government’s war for public support.
Élisabeth Borne has pledged measures to mitigate the reform’s negative effects, including making it easier for workers in hazardous or physically demanding occupations to retire early, providing incentives for older workers to return to the workforce, and increasing the guaranteed minimum pension. Opponents say there’s no need to take action because the system isn’t technically in deficit right now. It argues that there are more efficient ways to reduce spending than forcing people to work longer, such as reducing pensions for the well-off.
It also states that the poor will have to pay the highest price for the reform. Those in this category typically begin their working lives at a younger age and, as a result, have accrued sufficient pension benefits to retire with dignity at age 62. They will have to put in an extra two years of work for no payoff gain. Since President François Mitterrand lowered the retirement age to 60 in 1982, France has undergone seven pension reforms. There has been widespread public opposition to rolling back every reform since then. The retirement age was increased by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 despite weeks of protests.