Mass movement of workers and youth intensifies in France

 This is biggest mass movement in France since May 1968

France is in the grip of mass protest and strike movement. The protests and strikes have erupted against the controversial pension reform plan. The Macron government wants to increase the retirement age from current 62 years to 64 years. From 2027, workers will have to make social security contributions over 43 years rather than 42 years in order to draw a full pension. Some other controversial measures also included in the pension reform plan.

The strikes and protests were mostly peaceful before the March 16. But the police clashed with protestors after the  French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne  rammed through the bill in the National Assembly, the lower house, last week by invoking Article 49.3 of French constitution. The constitutional clause grants the government executive privilege to pass a bill without a parliamentary vote and gives the opposition the opportunity to respond with a no-confidence vote. Borne government survived two no-confidence votes by the narrow majority of just 09 votes.

A recent poll found that 82 percent of French people held a negative view regarding the use of the 49.3 article, and 65 percent wished for the demonstrations to persist, even if the law was passed.

The strikes and protests have become more violent as the police are trying to break the strikes through the use of violence. The workers are also responding with same tactics to defend themselves. Now the Macron/Borne government is putting the blame of violence on to the striking workers and protesting young people.

First strikes and street protests took place on January 19, 2023. From the train drivers to airport workers are striking for their demands. The workers in health, ports, energy and other sectors are also organizing strikes. The tons of garbage are piling up on the streets as bin workers have been on the strike since March 07.

Nearly 3.5 million Workers and youth took to the streets across France against the pension reforms announced by Macron government on March 23. Nearly 0.8 million (8, 00,000) people took to the streets in Paris. Hundreds of thousands of working people and youth took to the streets of other major cities including Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes, Lyon and Grenoble.  The workers and young people are fighting against the pension reforms for last two months. Mass protests and strikes took place in different parts of France in last 8 weeks.

The neoliberal right wing Macron government was hoping that the protests and strikes will fade away soon. But contrary to the hopes of the government, the protest movement has swelled in recent period. As soon as the Macron government announced its plan to reform the pension system in France, the strikes and protests broke out. The Trade Unions have rejected the pension reforms and declared them being anti-workers. 

The highhanded police tactics to intimidate the protesters have failed so far. The police have arrested nearly 800 people including some tourists. The police intimidation, arrests and harassment on the streets is not simply working. The local authorities has imposed ban on the street protests in order to control the situation in many cities.

The Macron government is using all sorts of tactics and measures to break the strikes and to contain the street protests. But the workers have pushed back. Instead of demoralizing the protestors, this provoked even more anger.

In general, the mood and methods on the demonstrations and pickets are becoming more defiant and radicalized than the ‘days of action’ in the past, which have often felt more like rallies than national strikes. People are using their ingenuity to resist attempts to crush the movement.

The workers in France are protesting against pension reforms because they believe that the proposed reforms will result in longer working hours with fewer benefits and a higher retirement age. They also fear that the reforms will hurt the country’s most vulnerable citizens, such as the elderly and those with health issues, as they will no longer be able to retire early. Additionally, the workers are concerned that the proposed reforms are too focused on austerity and cuts rather than on their living standards, benefits and quality of life.

The Trade unions are opposing the pension reforms in France because they believe that the reforms will hurt workers and pensioners, as they will be required to work longer, receive lower pensions, and be subject to a greater number of pension reforms in the future. They are also concerned that the reforms will lead to a two-tier system, with some workers receiving a lower pension than others. Furthermore, the unions fear that the reforms will lead to an increase in inequality, with the wealthy receiving more benefits than those on lower incomes.

The pension reforms in France are so unpopular because they are seen as a direct attack on one of the most cherished social safety nets in the country: the retirement system. Many right wing governments in the past tried to reform the pension system but faced stiff resistance and mass opposition from trade unions, working class and young people. Macron tried to pass the pension plan in his first tenure but failed to do so due to the fierce resistance from the workers.

The reforms make it harder for people to retire early and reduce benefits for some of the lowest-earning retirees. They also raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and reduce pension payments for those who work past the age of 65. The reforms also include a controversial increase in the number of years of contributions needed for a full pension.

French government wants to increase the employment among the 61 to 64 years age group. Nearly 33 percent people in this age group works in France compare to 61 percent in Germany and 69 percent in Sweden. These changes have been met with widespread opposition from labor unions and other groups, who argue that the reforms are unfair and will lead to an increasing number of elderly people living in poverty.

                                             Khalid Bhatti

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