The North Star


Pension reform in France

Angry Population Confronts Pressured Government

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Since the announcement of the pension reform project by the French government on January 10, 2023, France is once again plunged into a major social upheaval, just over four years after the yellow vest crisis. French workers are threatening to resort to a general strike, which could be extended by many sectors and seriously undermine the government.

Polls show that more than 70% of the population support the mobilizations. According to Lucas Gizard, a French trade unionist at the SQDC based in Montreal, this crisis seems to be the only path to reverse this decision. "It's the only way to talk to them. If the whole French workforce stopped working tomorrow, I guarantee the government would withdraw its reform."

Emmanuel Macron's government is proposing to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 and increase the contribution period to 43 years. Mr. Gizard explained to North Star that the French population has a prior lack of trust in their government due in part to several lies by the latter during the pandemic. Once again, the council of ministers claims that pension reform is necessary, in contrast to its own institutions, which allegedly do not report any major problems.

The reform would "maintain the standard of living of retirees, promote the employment of seniors and preserve solidarity between generations" according to the government. However, "we see that there is not only inequality at the level of the poor—a third of the population dies before 60 years of age and obviously, it is the poorest—but also, it is very disadvantageous for people who started working earlier, for example at 16 years old, or manual workers, garbage collectors, etc."

This reform is part of a two-fold trend in Western countries. First, the increasing demographic weight of the elderly is putting pressure on pension funds, but also, the general economic situation is pushing states to act and, under pressure from business, to put the burden of the crisis on workers by reducing their benefits.

On March 26, 2023 Macron and his prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, added fuel to the fire by using the 49.3 clause of the French constitution, which allows legislation to be passed without a vote in parliament. Lucas Gizard told North Star that "since the beginning of the year, they have used it 10 times, and for the pensions it is the 11th time they have used it."

"Since the use of 49.3, there have been a lot of riots, accompanied by police violence and completely disproportionate repression. Yes, there are violent people, but there have been many, many victims of repression." The French state has, since January 2023, put in place a vast apparatus of repression over its population. At least 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests so far. 

For Lucas Gizard, "when there is no debate, when laws are enacted by force, we are really on the verge of fascism, and I am glad that at least society can see this, unite and show that the French people are the ones who decide." He mentions that he is "extremely happy with the awareness. As I am in Montreal, obviously, I would like to see Quebec and Canada learn a few things from it."

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