FRENCH trade unions took to the streets last Tuesday in a massive ‘Day of Action’ protest against another government attack on their pensions.
Previous attempts to slash pensions in France, in 1995 and 2010, unleashed mass protests and damaging strikes, and the Socialist government’s latest reforms are meeting the same levels of resistance.
Four unions organised protests in 180 cities and towns across the country.
In the western city of Nantes, thousands marched behind CGT union banners.
Protests also took place in other cities, such as Mointpellier where thousands marched, as well as in France’s Indian Ocean Reunion island.
In Paris, the FO and CGT unions organised tens of thousands to march on Tuesday afternoon.
Unions have denounced the reform as ‘anti-youth’ because it will incrementally raise the total contribution period from the current 41.5 years to 43 years by 2035, meaning employees will need to work longer to be eligible for full pensions.
A full package of ‘reforms’ will be officially put forward on September 18 as France, under pressure from the European Union, looks to slash the state pension scheme which the EU says will be 30 billion euros into the red by 2020.
The reform plan also proposes increasing employee and employer contributions to France’s retirement system.
The organisers of the Day of Action, including trade unions and left-wing political parties, have called on workers to mobilise against reforms they see as plainly unfair for the majority.
Jean-Luc Jibelin from France’s Communist Party said the reforms would spell ‘disaster’ for a lot of French workers.
‘This project of reform does not correspond at all to the expectations of the French people,’ he said.
‘The reforms mean that many young people will simply not be able to qualify for the maximum pension. That is not social progress.’
France’s rail operator SNCF was badly hit by the action and services came to a halt in many areas.
Intercity trains were brought to a standstill.
Two recent opinion polls suggested that the majority of French people are angry enough to revolt, and take to the barricades.
One published on the eve of Tuesday’s strike revealed 61 per cent of the public are backing strikers, and another showed the issue was a real worry for most people, with 80 per cent of respondents saying they were concerned about their pensions.
Organisers of Tuesday’s marches have pounced on the surveys to show the extent of opposition towards the government’s plan.
CP member Jibelin said: ‘It’s not just the political left who are mobilising against this reform. 80 per cent of people are worried about there pensions. There is a real concern out there and it’s because of this that we are on the streets.
‘The Socialist government’s reform is basically the same as what the Right proposes, and that is to make people contribute for longer,’ was the common refrain.
He dismisses the concerns of the EU and other economic commentators from both inside France and abroad, who say the reforms are urgently needed to help cut the debt.
‘France has money. At this moment in time it is not bankrupt. It is just a question of choice about who the government makes pay for this debt,’ he said.
The last time pension reform was on the table, under former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, France witnessed one of the biggest street protests in recent years. Jibelin stressed that the Day of Action is only the beginning.
France is well-known for its enthusiasm for street protests and strikes, he noted, and ‘we are not just talking about the 1789 Revolution or May and June 1968’.