France General Strike

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Striking French works on a demonstration against the attack on their pensions being carried out by the Macron government
Striking French works on a demonstration against the attack on their pensions being carried out by the Macron government

FRANCE’S nine main unions united for the first time in a decade in public sector protests earlier this week against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to freeze pay and shed 120,000 state workers in five years.

Thirty per cent of flights were cancelled from French airports as Easyjet cabin crew joned the national strike and many schools shut. Unions said 600,000 public sector workers took to the streets around France with a mass protest in Paris.

Tens of thousands of SNCF rail workers fighting Macron’s plan to privatise the state railway and destroy hard-won working conditins and job security went on strike.

Public and private health workers also took action.

A statement by the CGT said: ‘This 9th of October has been a good proof that employees, young people, jobseekers and retirees do not want this policy digging inequalities, taking to the poor to give to the rich. ‘Nearly 300,000 protesters took to the streets.

‘Beyond this figure, many actions have been identified in the territory in various forms: strikes and walkouts, picnics, distribution of leaflets, general assembly, blocking areas of activity, etc. ‘These mobilisations made it possible to include in a national movement the expression of local or specific demands of certain professions.

‘All of them found themselves demanding the increase of wages, pensions and social minima; professional equality between women and men and stop the breakage of public services.

‘At the heart of the concerns too: social security, health, retirement, education and training. ‘On all these subjects, other choices are possible and the CGT is carrying proposals to conquer new rights. ‘The unitary dynamic that has been built must be strengthened and the CGT will contribute to it. ‘The purpose of this day is to demonstrate that social protest is always present and that social alternatives are possible.

‘The government and the Medef must listen to and respond to these expectations expressed in all sectors for social progress. ‘It is the defence and development of our social model that are at stake. ‘Solidarity must be the foundation, not the thickness of the portfolio.’

• French unions have opposed the French government’s plans for sweeping pensions ‘reform’, including creating one single pension system, but the legal retirement age will remain 62, despite pressure to raise it. ‘The legal retirement age of 62 will not change,’ France’s work minister Muriel Pénicaud said. Business groups have been pushing the government to raise it to 64 or 65 but unions threatened major strikes and protests if that happened.

‘If the government touches the 62 years limit, we will mobilise,’ the CFDT union said on Monday. Other unions such as CGT and Force Ouvrier (FO) also threatened to take action this week.

In the past, attempts to change the legal retirement age met with fierce opposition.

The CGT union said on Wednesday: ‘The High Commissioner for pensions brought together the unions of employees and employers on October 10 for a review of the first phase of consultation on the systemic pension reform.

‘Given the risks involved in such a radical reform, in particular, for the most vulnerable employees (minced careers, fixed-term contracts, incomplete time for many women employees, etc.), the government is extending the deadlines and reducing the presentation of the bill to June 2019, after the elections.

‘He presented a framework that remains very vague, intended above all to reassure. The majority of citizens are, indeed, not fooled by the risks of declining pensions for all.

‘The mechanisms of redistribution and solidarity are all questioned, which is primarily aimed at employees in the private sector.

‘There is every reason to fear that the new solidarity mechanisms that the High Commission plans to rebuild will be more limited, more targeted, more individualised, with savings being made on the backs of the most vulnerable. ‘This prospect of a single regime would lead to the disappearance of the civil service and special regimes and, consequently, to the questioning of the status of public officials and civil servants. Similarly, supplementary pensions would disappear.

‘No prospect of democratic governance of the pension system has been raised by the High Commission. ‘By showing the continuation of the contribution level (28%) and the age of eligibility for retirement (62 years), the government wants to make believe that the new system will maintain the pension level and the age of departure, with additional transparency. ‘It is not so.

‘If for example we apply the rules of the current supplementary pension in points (Arrco-Agirc) to the totality of the salary, a pension of 1,600 euros would pass to 1,000 euros. The government must come out of limbo. ‘The point system only makes it possible to evaluate the pension on the eve of retirement. ‘It takes into account the entire career and not the best years (private) or the end of career (public).

‘Solidarity will consist only of additional points which can not guarantee that they will be at the level of the previous salary (unemployment sickness, maternity, etc.).

‘For the CGT, the priorities are: what amount of pension and at what age? Points on which the project says nothing and provides no guarantee. The CGT reaffirms its opposition to this project and will make proposals to improve the rights of all.’

The Force Ouvriere union said in a statment: ‘For several weeks, Force Ouvrière has asked that the ongoing consultation on pension reform be transformed into consultation on the future bill and so on concrete elements. ‘At the meeting between the Minister of Health, the High Commissioner for Pensions and the social interlocutors, several fears expressed by FO were confirmed.

‘The universal pension system will replace the 42 existing schemes well and it would be well a “single point system” that we refuse. ‘Systemic reform will evolve permanently since each year the purchase price of the point will be fixed by the State so that the “system remains in equilibrium”.’