If the French government has its way, people in the country should soon be working longer. This is met with resentment among the population. Many find the reform plans too harsh.
“We want to live, not just survive” sing skeletons made up of demonstrators in Paris during a protest against the French government’s planned pension reform. Huge figures of crows are flying in the background – with the faces of Head of State Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne.
Opponents of what is probably the government’s most important project went on strike and protested nationwide and across all sectors. They paralyzed part of the train system and air traffic, throttled electricity production, and went on strike in refineries, schools and hospitals.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, more than 1.1 million people took part in the demonstrations and the major strike, and the unions spoke of more than two million participants. According to the ministry, 80,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Paris alone. 10,000 security forces were mobilized.
The French government wants to gradually raise the regular retirement age from 62 to 64. In addition, the number of payment years required for a full pension should increase more quickly. A number of individual systems with privileges for certain professional groups are to be abolished.
Currently, the retirement age is 62 years. In fact, however, retirement begins later on average: those who have not paid in long enough to be entitled to a full pension also work longer. At the age of 67 there is then a pension without deductions, regardless of how long it has been paid in – the government wants to keep this.
She wants to increase the monthly minimum pension to around 1,200 euros. People who started working particularly early or whose working conditions are exceptionally hard should retire earlier.
For the unions, the reform plan is brutal and unfair. Many demonstrators in Paris are primarily speaking out against longer working hours. “I don’t see myself chasing children at the age of 64,” says 57-year-old Adekoya, who works with young children. The 49-year-old Sylvie from the nursing department says: “My colleagues are broken everywhere. The shoulders, the back, everything is worn out. It will be difficult for us to hold out until we are 62.”
Government: Pension system no longer fundable
However, the government considers the project necessary, justifying it with the fact that the current system cannot be financed in the long term. After all, in the aging population there are fewer and fewer paying employees per retiree. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said the current system would have accumulated a deficit of 13.5 billion euros by 2030. Government spokesman Olivier Véran also emphasized: “This is not a sustainable situation because it puts us collectively in danger.”
According to a survey, four out of five French believe that reform is necessary, but more than 60 percent reject the current plan. One demonstrator, who doesn’t want his name in the media, says: “It would be enough to divert public funds.” The government advertises: With the reform, pension cuts, higher pension contributions and higher national debt can be avoided.
In parliament, the government can probably rely on the support of the conservatives. It remains to be seen whether the headwind from the road will put a stumbling block in her way. The unions want the movement to continue, there are protractable strikes.
Not the first strikes
The fierce criticism of the reform was to be expected. Macron had already wanted to reform the pension system during his first term in office. For weeks there were strikes against the project, which was ultimately postponed due to the corona pandemic. The government is now deliberately relaxed, affirming that it wants to hear the concerns of its population, but is also calling on France, which is quite happy to strike, not to blockade.
“People say there is a risk of gridlock, but it’s not up to us, it’s up to them,” says 68-year-old Françoise Lemaulf. Her friend Marie-Suzie Pencher, 74, agrees: “The workforce is ready to fight and we will not back down.” There would be both employers and government: “It’s up to them to step back, it’s up to them to listen.”
“What we ultimately want is social progress,” says researcher and trade unionist Lou Chenier. The 37-year-old, who is part of the skeleton dance troupe, said: “Retirement should be a moment of rest and pause, not a dying home.”
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