Despite widespread opposition to raising the retirement age, many French lawmakers remain determined to fulfill the president’s election pledge to overhaul the nation’s pension system, Kenny Stancil reports.
By Kenny Stancil
Enraged workers across France walked off the job and hit the streets Tuesday to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plan to raise the nation’s official retirement age from 62 to 64.
It marks the second time this month that French workers have mobilized against Macron’s attack on the country’s pension system. Nationwide strikes and marches on Jan. 19 brought out between 1 million and 2 million people, and labor unions aimed to match or exceed those numbers on Tuesday, with roughly 250 demonstrations planned around the country.
Longtime leftist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon predicted Tuesday morning that “a historic day” of protests would help defeat Macron’s proposal once and for all, as massive crowds rallied in cities and towns outside Paris —prior to a major march that shut down the French capital on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s not often that we see such a mass mobilization,” Mélenchon said from the southern city of Marseille. “It’s a form of citizens’ insurrection.”
On the small western island of Ouessant, about 100 people gathered early in the day for a protest outside the office of Mayor Denis Palluel.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Palluel noted that the threat of having to work longer to qualify for a full pension dismayed mariners on the island who have grueling ocean-based jobs.
“Retiring at a reasonable age is important,” he said, “because life expectancy isn’t very long.”
Despite widespread opposition to pushing back France’s retirement age — approximately three-fourths of the population is against such a move, according to recent polling — many lawmakers remain determined to fulfill Macron’s election pledge to overhaul the nation’s pension system.
On Monday, Macron described his effort to hike the retirement age as “essential.” Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, for her part, asserted this past weekend that raising the retirement age to 64 by 2030 is “no longer negotiable.”
“Strikers and protesters intend to prove otherwise,” Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday. “Labor unions and left-wing legislators fighting in parliament against Macron’s plans are counting on protesters to turn out massively to strengthen their efforts to kill the bill.”
As they did earlier this month, strikes on Tuesday upended multiple aspects of daily life, including electricity production, transportation, and education.
A nationwide strike is taking place across France for the second time this month in protest of President Macron's plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 ?? #greve31janvier pic.twitter.com/hlZ7VvtJ6G
— Dripped Out Trade Unionists (@UnionDrip) January 31, 2023
“TotalEnegies says between 75% and 100% of workers at its refineries and fuel depots are on strike, while electricity supplier EDF said they’re monitoring a drop in power to the national grid equivalent to three nuclear power plants,” Euronews reported.
According to AP: “Rail operator SNCF reported major disruptions, with strikes knocking out most trains in the Paris region, in all other regions, and on France’s flagship high-speed network linking cities and major towns. The Paris Metro was also hard hit by station closures and cancellations.”
France’s Education Ministry, meanwhile, reported that around a quarter of the nation’s teachers were on strike Tuesday, down from 70 percent during the first round of protests.
Macron’s proposed pension reform, the text of which Borne presented to the National Assembly earlier this month, faces an uphill battle.
[Related: Paris Reportage: GILETS JAUNES, a 2020 CN Live! video report discusses the pension issue in France]
For one thing, the New Ecological and Social People’s Union (NUPES) — a coalition of four left-wing parties recently formed by Mélenchon — won 131 seats in last June’s parliamentary elections, helping to prevent the neoliberal alliance Ensemble from securing the absolute majority it needed to ram through Macron’s unwanted austerity agenda.
According to AFP, even the president’s own allies from his ruling alliance have expressed concerns about some aspects of the legislation.
“We can feel a certain nervousness from the majority as we begin our work,” Mathilde Panot, head of the left-wing France Unbowed Party in the National Assembly, told the news outleton Tuesday. “When we see this opposition growing, I understand why they are wavering.”
However, journalist Marlon Ettinger, citing French Communist Party MP André Chassaigne, warned recently that “the government might try to pass the reform through a social security financing bill (known as PLFRSS), which would allow for a series of constitutional delays that would significantly limit the amount of time deputies can discuss the bill. It would also block the possibility for the opposition to present their own counterproposals.”
In addition, “although Macron has no popular assent, nor a parliamentary majority for his reform, he does have constitutional tools he can use to push the package through,” Ettinger explained in Jacobin. “One, known as 49.3 (after the article of the Constitution which grants the president this power), essentially lets him bypass the National Assembly. The constitution of the current Fifth Republic grants the president these authoritarian powers to hedge against any popular sentiment that might make its way into the lower house. The use of 49.3 would suspend the debate in the National Assembly, then send the bill directly to the Senate, which is controlled by Les Républicains.”
Aware that such anti-democratic maneuvers are on the table, Mélenchon and other opponents of the assault on France’s pension system have called on Macron to withdraw his proposal for good.
Kenny Stancil is a staff writer for Common Dreams.
This article is from Common Dreams.
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Warming up for another ‘revolution’, I wonder. It’s been a long time coming, that’s for sure. If it happens, it will likely trigger mass unrest all over Europe. Macron will use harsh suppression but will just make it worse.
Europe needs to act now before the ‘ruler’s destroy everything.
I hope the strikes don’t stop just for a promise from the lying politicians. They need to be utterly humiliated first and foremost, but also forced to put something in writing/law to prevent them from trying this same thing every year or two, or waiting for a holiday weekend to do it stealthily, or other tricks.
The “something in writing” is the constutution of the Fifth Republic, very carefully written so as to set up procedures which allow the president to rule by decree.
Just as the U.S. constitution was very carefully written so as to violate the principle of one person one vote.
Can anyone imagine this kind of societal solidarity emerging here in the USA? And that’s because of an attempt to change retirement age from 62 to 64! …. Here, this is serious talk of raising the retirement age from 67 to 70! Will we see a similar outpouring of civil action here to protest when the time comes to vote/implement such a change?? ……… I don’t see it. In the US the citizens have been successfully tamed into submission. Social anger has successfully been re-directed so as to have people at each others’ throats (i.e. identity politics) instead of coalescing around any mass movements for social uplift. Obama’s viscous response to Occupy Wall Street is a glimpse of the fear our political elites – Ds and Rs – have for any social solidarity/people power attempting to extract even meagre concessions from the oligarchy.
Gee, I thought that democracy meant that the people were the rulers, typically through their representatives. Didn’t the French get the memo?
When I see once again that the French people are out protesting in the streets, I wonder what it will take for the citizens of this god forsaken country to vigorously protest our failed government and have the courage to believe what they see with their own eyes and experience every day, as they struggle to make ends meet here in this Land of the Casi Libre.
Thank you, Kenny.
What is the explanation for this “austerity” measure?
The money is being spent on Ukraine?
There is a labor shortage due to low birth rate and an aging population?
I have lived in France since 1988. Austerity has been the policy of governments here for many years to be applied to most people, but of course not for the very rich, who own nearly all the media as well as the biggest enterprises. It has nothing to do with money spent on the Ukraine.
The retirement age was age 60 for many years, but got moved to age 62 more recently. The main statistical agency recenty found that one out of four poor men and one out of eight poor women die before reaching 62 years. Of course that means that less money is spent to support retired people. Personally, I have been very lucky, I have been retired for 19 years.
As this article shows, the government has several methods available for making laws without any parliamentary approval, and Presiident Macron, at least since last summer, has not had approval for any of his measures, so the result is that he rules by decree.
One interpretation might be simply a power grab by an entitled neocon.
Thanks K.S. for your reportage