#Stop64ans: March 7, 2023

#Stop64ans: March 7, 2023

The current pension system was changed in 2010 under President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the change was not without protests. Currently, the age of retirement with a full pension is 62 (raised from 60, the age established by the Mitterrand administration); the required number of years of work (when one is contributing to the fund) is 41, though if one is “missing” some years of contributions, one can still retire at 67, with a full pension. Pensions are calculated according to the 25 best earning years of work, a figure that inevitably includes some of the earliest, and thus least remunerative, of the years at work. Macron proposes to raise the age to 64 and the years to 43 for full pensions.

This proposal has led to a great deal of anger, and Macron, never all that popular, has seen his popularity plummet. A poll by YouGov and Le Huffpost, taken from February 27-1 March 2023, showed Macron with a favorability rating of 25%.  He has been in that range before, but in another sampling taken in February, a survey by Ipsos-Le Point showed that he had lost ground with his own people–a 9% drop for those in his own party, Renaissance, and a drop of 7 points from his Les Républicains sympathizers.  They had his overall favorability rating at 33%.[1]

French unions (syndicats) represent only about 8% of the workforce, and they are divided into numerous organizations.  And yet they are formidable protest leaders.  And they have joined together for a planned action–in truth, a General Strike–against Macron’s pension reform, to be held for 24 hours on Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

The aim is to bring the country to a complete halt, with major planned demonstrations throughout France. Their call evokes the era at the end of the nineteenth century, when workers dreamed of a General Strike, a complete work stoppage that would show the power of workers, without which society could not exist, and could lead to dramatic improvements in wages and working conditions (indeed, the Syndicalists believed the Strike might even lead to revolution.)  This time the cause is pension reform, the last major bastion of the French social model.  

There are three major issues of substance.  The first involves the decision to raise the age of retirement, a change that creates a particular hardship for those who are in physically demanding jobs (the term is pénibilité).  The second issue is the need to complete 43 years of work (of paying into the system)–a demand which especially penalizes women, who have spent years “out of work,” as we categorize it, by raising children.  The third issue, finally, is the amount of the pension.  Opponents of the plan believe that it should be at least equal to SMIC (minimum wage).  Yet it is clear, by doing the numbers, that many retirees are making, and will still be making, less than minimum wage.

Another less tangible issue is anger over the supposed need for the change.  Macron’s government has argued that the pension funds will run out if something is not done.  Yet for years–decades–French governments have been supporting corporations by excusing them from their withholding contributions for a variety of social programs (family allowances, medical, unemployment) even as they also essentially “gave” billions to businesses in return for vague promises of job creation (for example, President François Hollande’s Crédit d’impôt pour la Compétitivité et l’Emploi).  If the money could be found for that purpose, it is argued, then it can be found to tide the pension funds over when (or indeed, if) they run short.  And this anger, which also motivated the Gilets Jaunes, stems from the profound and growing chasm between rich and poor.

One of the most important of the unions and the most moderate of the majors, the Confédération française démocratique du Travail (CFDT) issued a statement by their General Secretary, Laurent Berger:

Message from Laurent Berger, head of CFDT

He states here that the people of France–those in unions, and those who are not–had joined in historic demonstrations since the beginning of the year, but the government “remains deaf” to our opposition; thus they had been forced to harden their stance. He calls upon everyone to join them, whether in one of the unions or not; and while there are demonstrations throughout the country (each of the unions put out a map with locations) those who cannot come are asked only to stop working “a few minutes or a few hours,” in a massive show of solidarity throughout the country.

demonstration with Force ouvrière vests
A demonstration of Force ouvrière workers early in 2023 against the retirement reform. Shutterstock.com

The website for Force ouvrière included an interview with the Secretary General, Frédéric Souillot.  The system of collective social protection might “from time to time” show a deficit, he suggested, but that was because the State, after giving businesses relief from paying into withholding funds, had never reimbursed the funds, nor had they demanded real and enforceable conditions for giving the money.  He argued further that decent “employment,” not retirement, should concern the State: people had to work two or three jobs at minimum wage to survive: “to be at a minimum wage all one’s life, all one’s career, without counting the hazards due to loss of employment, doesn’t permit anyone to build his life.”

Since Macron and the government had given the earlier mass mobiizations “the back of their hand,” they had had to plsn something more.  “The strike,” Souiillot said, “isn’t an end in itself.  It is the peaceful weapon that employees and workers have, to put in the place of force.  But before that, generally we negotiate, to try to advance.  So, we tried [with the earlier demonstrations], to prove to the executive that we did not want his reform, and why.  And it isn’t just the union activists who are expressing this, but citizens, all of France; the opinion polls prove it today.” Souillot noted also that March 8 is International Women’s Day; on the evening of the 7th, there would be “general assemblies of strikers, who would decide what they will do” on the following morning.[2]. He thus suggested, as Berger did not, that the strike might well continue beyond 24 hours.

Sud Rsil, from Wikidata

SUD (“Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques) has been particularly strident in its labeling of the planned demonstration as a “class struggle,” and calling for a “renewable strike,” or a strike continuing beyond 24 hours (grève reconductible).  “[The continuing strike] alone can disorganize, exasperate, fatigue the government, make it crack. . . . Let us organize ourselves, sector by sector, to block the economy, to organize general assemblies, to put strike funds in place, allowing those who have a decisive impact to go on strike.  The essential sectors on strike will hit the patronat hard in the wallet and block the economy.”  Oh, and they refer to Macron as a “sociopath.” [3]

The Confédération générale du travail (CGT), led by Philippe Martinez, is the other major union, along with CGDT.

Man in CGT vest
From Shutterstock.com

The CGT, led by Philippe Martinez, in addition to calling for the strike, put out an alternative plan for retirement.  Their main demands were a return to the age of 60, for retirement at full pension; a full pension at least equal to minimum wage; an end to allowing corporations to get “exonerations” from paying their withholding taxes; equal remuneration for men and women; a serious taking into account of pénibilité; and a “just remuneration” for farmers.[4]

March 7, 2023.


Header image from Shutterstock.com

[1] Romain Herreros, “La popularité d’Emmanuel Macron toujours aussi terne–Sondage exclusif,” Huffpost, March 3, 2023.  https://www.huffingtonpost.fr/politique/article/la-popularite-d-emmanuel-macron-toujours-aussi-terne-sondage-exclusif_214788.html

Clément Pétreault, “Réforme des retraites: la popularité de Macron en forte baisse,” Le Point, March 1, 2023.  https://www.lepoint.fr/politique/barometre-ipsos-le-point-reforme-des-retraites-tout-le-monde-perd-01-03-2023-2510519_20.php?M_BT=3554320551968#xtor=EPR-6-%5BNewsletter-Matinale%5D-20230302-%5BArticle_13%5D

[2] Valérie Forgeron, “Mobilisation contre la réforme des retraites, préparation du 7 mars: interview du secrétaire général de la Confédération, Frédéric Souillot, https://www.force-ouvriere.fr/?lang=fr

[3] https://sud-luttedeclasses-education.org/?Mobilisation-contre-la-reforme-des-retraites-a-partir-de

[4] https://www.cgt.fr/actualites/france/retraite/mobilisation/la-retraite-60-ans-cest-possible

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