The Macron Decree That Ignited France

When it bypassed Parliament and forced through pension system changes, Macron’s government exposed the anti-democratic deterioration in the Fifth Republic’s dual-executive system, writes Muhammed Shabeer.

Demonstrators protesting the Macron government’s pension cutbacks flying flags and balloons of various unions in Paris on March 23, 2023. (Rémi Simonnin, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Muhammed Shabeer
Peoples Dispatch

Over 2 million people hit the streets across France on Tuesday, denouncing the controversial pension reforms pushed by President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

The reforms were forcibly passed in the National Assembly on March 16 using Article 49.3 to bypass the parliamentary vote. The move has further weakened the legitimacy of the reforms, already detested by the majority of the French working class.

While the government, headed by Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, narrowly survived a no-confidence vote on March 20, the approval rating of the president has plummeted along with political good will for his neo-liberal Renaissance (RE) Party, as anger against the anti-worker pension reforms rages across the country. 

The pension reforms, proposed by the government on Jan. 10, increase the retirement age from 62 to 64 and stipulate a mandatory 43 years of service for entitlement to full pension and benefits.

France’s Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne in Strasbourg, November 2022. (CC-BY-4.0: European Union, Wikimedia Commons)

The groundbreaking mobilizations and work stoppages on Tuesday marked the 10th major action since Jan. 19 and trade unions reiterated their demand for the withdrawal of the reforms.

Left-wing opposition groups are also gearing up toward a national referendum on the issue. The coalition of trade unions has called for larger mobilization and strikes on April 6 as well.

The government has shown no leniency towards the protesters and unleashed security forces to quell them.

Trade unions, including the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), have condemned the government’s insensitivity towards mediation with the unions, as well as Macron’s outright refusal to roll back the reforms. 

Demonstrators on the July Column in Paris, March 23, 2023. (Roland Godefroy, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The French Communist Party’s (PCF) Ian Brossat expressed confidence that the government will eventually be forced to succumb to the protests and roll back the reforms.

Meanwhile, legislators from the leftist coalition New Ecologic and Social Peoples Union (NUPES) are waiting for the Constitutional Council’s decision on their request for a Referendum of Shared Initiative (RIP) on the implementation of the pension reforms.

The NUPES coalition — including the socialists from La France Insoumise (LFI), communists from the PCF, social democrats from the Socialist Party (PS), and the Greens — has the parliamentary strength required to initiate a referendum, and is also confident of collecting the officially required number of signatures — a 10th of the voters, or 4.87 million — within nine months to conduct the referendum.

Addressing the media on March 27, NUPES leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said, “the French and foreign press as well as a number of international institutions are well aware of what is happening in France,” adding that “this is more reminiscent of the workings of an authoritarian regime than that of a democracy with authority.”

Jean-Luc Mélenchon in 2017. (ActuaLitté, CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr)

The legacy and popularity of the 64-year-old French Fifth Republic is dipping to historic lows day by day, as the Macron government continues to remain insensitive towards the workers’ demands and unleashes the state security forces to crack down on protests.

Macron’s Renaissance (RE) Party lacks a majority in the parliament and his own re-election in 2022 was helped by his opponent being the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. The threat of a far-right victory in France helped consolidate Macron’s votes.

In his first tenure as president, Macron’s supporters had an outright majority in the National Assembly. However, even then, he was forced to roll back a hike in fuel taxes — arbitrarily imposed in November 2018 to combat climate change — after the massive Yellow Vests protests

An earlier avatar of the pension reforms — on the same lines of the current one — had been proposed by Macron in December 2019 during his first tenure, but was dropped midway due to massive protests from the working class and the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.

The motion of no-confidence against the current government, supported by leftists and voted upon on March 20, fell short by just nine votes in the National Assembly. According to reports, the motion was also supported by over a dozen MPs from the conservative The Republicans (LR). However, the majority of the MPs from the pro-government bloc, including LR, voted against the motion. 

The Palais Bourbon in Paris, where the National Assembly meets. (Dinkum, CC0, Wikimedia Commons)

Borne had invoked Article 49.3 in the National Assembly on March 16 and bypassed voting on the pension reforms. The government had rightly sensed that if a vote took place, especially on the clause for “amending financing of Social Security for 2023” that calls for raising the retirement age, more MPs from the pro-government bloc would have voted against it. That would have effectively thwarted Macron’s goal of bringing the budget deficit below 3 percent  by the end of his second term in 2027, by capping and slashing social pending.

Invoking Article 49.3 and unleashing the police at protests has dealt a huge blow to Macron’s standing. He has already been criticized for pushing the notorious Global Security Bill in 2021, which grants more autonomy to riot police in their actions. The bypassing of the parliamentary vote on the pension reforms also exposes the disproportionate and “undemocratic” power relations between the president and the parliament, and marks the deterioration of the semi-presidential or dual-executive system envisaged by the Fifth Republic in France since 1958. 

If Macron heeds the voices of workers and rolls back the reforms, the protests may stop. Macron may not be right in thinking that the ongoing protests will gradually wither away like the Yellow Vest protests, which were largely organized without a leadership and with participation primarily from middle class sections. 

If Macron remains adamant in implementing the reforms, the trade unions and the united French Left in the NUPES coalition have shown their will and resolve to fight the reform on the streets. There is massive popular support for initiating and conducting a referendum on the retirement age. 

Muhammed Shabeer is a correspondent for Peoples Dispatch.

This article is from Peoples Dispatch.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.


24 comments for “The Macron Decree That Ignited France

  1. lester
    April 1, 2023 at 13:25

    If the pension fund is genuinely in trouble, pass up a couple military adventures. France need not rule Africa any more.

  2. Observer
    April 1, 2023 at 10:15

    – The balloons pictured are not of individual labor untions, but of the main union federations.

    – The Yellow Vest movement is only “middle-class” if you use the US propaganda definition of including all the working class who are earning enough to pay their day-to-day expenses.

  3. Gerry L Forbes
    March 31, 2023 at 12:16

    Two decades ago it was predicted that the human population of the planet would level off at 9 billion and then gradually decline. The overpopulation crisis would take care or itself. But a couple of years ago a flurry of articles appeared warning of a new crisis: declining birth rates meant a falling population. Where would the young workers come from to contribute to pension plans? Apparently the world would need a population of 11 billion to keep pension plans solvent.

    Meanwhile, with the pandemic and more frequent heat waves (which disproportionately affect the elderly) baby boomers are dropping like flies. When this cohort passes through the system the pension plans will be just fine. This is a manufactured panic to cut pensions before the real numbers come out (all so billionaires can get another tax break).

  4. March 31, 2023 at 11:00

    It’s not only in the United States where the illusion of democracy has been exposed. The Deep State has tentacles almost everywhere.

    • Jim other
      April 1, 2023 at 17:13

      ???? How so?

  5. Packard
    March 31, 2023 at 08:18

    Politics and ideologies aside, when the money needed to provide free stuff to the electorate is gone, it is gone. No amount of mostly peaceful burning, looting, and pillaging on the part of an angry citizenry can ever change that reality.

    Eventually, all endless parties come to an end. When they do, the bills get paid. No exceptions and no excuses. In one way or another, all bills get paid.

    [Coming soon to a national, state, and local government very near you.]


    • JonnyJames
      March 31, 2023 at 10:48

      “free stuff” ? You must live in an ivory tower. If you haven’t noticed, most people work for a living and have to pay for stuff. The only “free stuff” is billions of subsidies and tax breaks for the banksters and corporate oligarchy. You know, the financial parasite class.

      The Kleptocratic Oligarchy is STEALING from the people who actually WORK for a living. It is disappointing that you can’t see that from on high in the ivory tower.

      March 31, 2023 at 11:42

      Yeah, but somehow they find billions to send to Ukraine. The money is there. France is a rich country but the rich won’t spread it around. They just want to make war and fake science of climate and pandemics. All that is behind the anger on the streets

    • lester
      April 1, 2023 at 13:30

      Packard, are you addressing the Military Industrial Complex?

  6. Anon
    March 31, 2023 at 05:24

    Tnx Muhammed,CN.
    Imagine… 43 years Labor to achieve Full Payment!
    Believe the Hollywood quote is: “What a Revoltin’ Development!”

  7. Michael Collins
    March 30, 2023 at 23:19

    Macron and company are too clever by half. From the article: “… increase the retirement age from 62 to 64 and stipulate a mandatory 43 years of service for entitlement to full pension and benefits.” To get 43 years of service, you have to start at age 21. If you have a long term illness, disability, or you are a non working marital or other committed partner, you will be working years after 64. That’s keep payments low and also creates a work force with much younger workers. This would no doubt work against union job opportunities, membership, and wages. The entry level workers would create longer periods unemployment for current workers thus pushing out anyone’s retirement benefits due to interruption in the 43 years of continuous service required for benefits.

    What a scam. No wonder the Macron-istas avoided any type of parliamentary debate.

  8. Arch Stanton
    March 30, 2023 at 19:58

    If only the supine Brits could show just 1% of what their ‘French’ neighbours are displaying, instead we have as much backbone as a slug.

    A good example is how the ruling Tory party voted down legislation last year to stop our privatised water companies from releasing raw sewage into our rivers & sea. For context, they have cut the environmental agency budget by half since 2010 so they can no longer effectively carry out their duties. Not one river is safe to swim in in all of England! All the while (since privatisation) ~£60bn of our ever increasing water bills have been directly allocated as dividends to these companies, whilst at the same time loading themselves up £70bn of debt.
    Seen this movie before and was totally disgusted by the obvious equity extraction going on. It goes something like this:

    1. Reduce CAPEX
    2. Increase dividends and loans
    3. Do (1) and (2) until gearing hits 80-85%
    4. Do the minimum to retain IG BBB rating.
    5. When material issues arise raise consumer water bills

    What this all means is that the consumer (all of us at the bottom really) is transferring wealth (via incomes) to the shareholders of the water company (and their very well remunerated executives).

    Now the companies are saying they don’t have the money to fix the infrastructure despite pillaging our bills for personal gain since the early 90s.

    Do the Brits revolt? No chance, Instead, we just shrug our shoulders and moan. The Brits love living under a feudal system, they know their place after all, deferential weasels.

    Ps pensionable age increase is also on the agenda here as well, and when it does happen you won’t hear anything from the masses.

  9. D.H.Fabian
    March 30, 2023 at 18:33

    This appears to be just a middle class protest, though I don’t know much about France’s socioeconomic system. I don’t know what they do to those who bec0me jobless or unable to work. My own mother was a full-time homemaker (I assume France has some of those), never in the workf0rce, yet she qualified for Social Security. I don’t know what percent of US seniors get pensions as well as Social Security. Social Security benefits are based on one’s lifetime earnings, so middle class retirees get higher benefits than retired low wage workers. All in all, it loos like middle class Frenchmen are protesting a plan that is pretty much like our own.

    • michael888
      March 31, 2023 at 15:51

      FICA, which funds Social Security, is only taxed on income below $147,000 (all income above that is FICA-tax-free.) Is that your definition of “middle class”?

    • James Whitney
      April 1, 2023 at 02:43

      About two thirds of the population support the protests, so it certainly has middle class support. But the most active protester are working class people: rail workers, garbage collectors etc.

      Many big companies are laying off their workers who reach tlhe age of 50 (worse for women who often lose their jobs by the time they are 45). So already to have greatly reduced income for 12 or 17 years is a disaster, so an extra two years is worse.

      The amount people get for retirement depands mostly on the number of years they have contributed to the retirement system and on the amount they have earned. So low income people get hit worse.

      There are other resources available to pay for retirement. The Macron government has reduced taxes for the wealthy and the CAC40 companies (the wealthiest companies) have been raking huge profits.

      I have been reading stories about women aready retired taking on work (like washing dishes in a restaurant – very hard work – in the case of one person).

      Just part of the severe austerity program for most of us.

  10. David Otness
    March 30, 2023 at 18:25

    It is worth noting that among the components comprising these protests, a strong streak of anti-NATO and anti-Ukraine war is evident as well.
    German and Dutch protests are said to contain some of the same seeds.

  11. Edward K. Wall
    March 30, 2023 at 17:41

    Isn’t this a recipe for revolution: just ignore the will of the people? But we are to believe this is a democracy?

  12. bardamu
    March 30, 2023 at 15:06

    Pension “reform” sounds too much like some attempt at improvement.

    Might “pension theft” be more objective”?

    • D.H. Fabian
      March 30, 2023 at 18:37

      How about like “welfare reform,” which translated into slashing, the4n ending, basic poverty relief?”

  13. March 30, 2023 at 14:45

    If I am not mistaken, wasn’t France very big on “Freedom of Speech” when it came to gratuitous insult of Prophet Muhammad but you can be prosecuted for insulting public offical. Hypocrisy much?

    • Rafael
      March 30, 2023 at 23:33

      Good point!

  14. Kiwiantz62
    March 30, 2023 at 14:23

    You have to admire the French people, they stand up to Tyranny & fight back unlike alot of other insipid Nations whose peoples just acquiesce & go with the American dominated, Neoliberal, Globalist, Deathcult Capitalism! These protests are not only amount Pension reforms, it’s also about many other things? Macron, the WEF little Napoleon needs to go & join his cronies at the EU or else the Guillotines are coming out!

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      March 31, 2023 at 01:27

      Spot on, I second this. The French people may be guilty of being fleeting but they are also champions of revolution, they won’t stand injustice, inequality and oppressions for too long as their thick-skinned elites !

  15. JonnyJames
    March 30, 2023 at 12:19

    “L’État, c’est moi!”. Whether Louis said it or not, the policy demonstrates it. The tyrannical 5th Republic is another faux “democracy”. Macron is a Rothschild bankster, just look at his track record – this should not surprise anyone.

    This is what happens when the oligarchy is allowed to run rampant. People are getting beaten and arrested for “contempt of public officials”. You cannot criticize or insult your “elected” leaders. If I were in France right now, I would be in jail as well. Freedom of speech?

    Also: The French double ballot system is highly undemocratic and results in a minority “electing” the President. Minority rules while the majority gets the merde beat out of them. Yes, those “European values” are on display for all to see. As Ray McGovern says: these folks give hypocrisy a bad name.

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