nationwide strike in  france
Protesters demonstrate against the French government’s proposed pension reforms in Saint-Nazaire on France’s west coast, as part of a day of nationwide strikes on January 19, 2023. Source: CNN

Trade unions organize nationwide strikes in France to derail Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reform to raise the retirement age by two years from 62 to 64. The strikes come as a major challenge to what the Macron government can achieve in their second term after losing the parliamentary majority. 

Inter-city and commuter train services have been disrupted. Schools and other public service institutions are shut down. At the Orly airport in Paris, one in five flights have been cancelled. Eight of France’s largest unions – covering transportation, education, police, executives and public sectors called Thursday to be the first strike day. They have called on workers to stage mass walk-outs at workplaces and take to the streets across France.

The reform has been overwhelmingly rejected by the public- with 68% opposing it according to an opinion poll. The reform has been hailed by the government as vital to safeguard France’s share-out pension system and to keep public spending in check. 

Macron’s previous effort to push the retirement age was met with mass protests and eventually led him to withdraw it when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It was also part of his manifesto in his reelection campaign that cost him and his party many votes.

What Government has to say about the Strike?

Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne outlined the pension reform plan which also said that from 2027 for workers to be eligible for a full pension, they must work for 43 years as opposed to 42 years now. The Prime Minister invoked the principle of “inter-generational solidarity” to justify the move.

The government says that the pension system is heading for a disaster as the ratio between those who are working and those who are retiring is declining rapidly. From four workers to one retiree, the ratio has reduced to around 1.7 per retiree today. Nearly all  European countries have raised the official retirement age. Italy and Germany raised it to 67 and in the UK it is currently at 66. 

A teacher sticks a slogan “Pensions: not at age 64” on a placard in front of a high school in Cannes, ahead of a nationwide day of strike and protests in key sectors like energy, public transport, air travel and schools against pension reform in France, on January 17, 2023 | Photo Credit: Reuters

The trade unions argue that there are other ways to make the pension system viable which include taxing the super-rich, increasing employers’ contributions or well-off pensioners. They also say that the brunt of the reform will be borne by the poorest who tend to start working early in life giving them the eligibility to earn a full pension but would have to work for two more years without any added benefits.

Unions are planning to organise more strikes in the coming days. If the strikes continue and services remain disrupted the country could come to a standstill. “Inflation, working conditions, pensions… (people) are fed up with all this and that’s why we think many will join us,” said Simone Legendre, a member of the CFE-CGC union.

The reform is due to go to the Parliament and the process is expected to take several weeks. As Macron’s party does not have a majority, they have to rely on 60 or more conservative ministers for support. Though in principle they are in favour of the reform, some have warned to vote against it.

Nivedita is a student at University of Delhi, majoring in Economics and Political Science. She loves consuming art and is in search of stories that often go unheard. She wants to be part of the change to build a sustainable and equitable future.

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