Workers in France ponder how to defeat pension cutbacks

Public opinion polls show a massive rejection of the government’s plan to “reform” France’s pension system. President Emmanuel Macron means to increase the age workers may retire from 62 to 64 and increase the qualification for a full pension from 42 years to 43 years worked. His plan would make it harder for workers who hold a harsh, difficult job to qualify for needed special treatment and make it much harder for women to qualify for a full pension.

Macron’s government claims the French pension system is in financial distress and that expenses must be cut. A team of French economists examined the projections the government made and concluded that the French system could go until 2070 before its financing would have to be changed.

The polls indicate that 7 out of 10 people living in France oppose this reform, and 9 out of 10 workers oppose it. An online petition has gathered over a million signatures saying no to the changes.

French workers have expressed this opposition not just by words; they have put their bodies on the streets by the hundreds of thousands nationwide four times since Jan. 19. The eight major French labor confederations, acting as an inter-union political coalition, issued the call, and the people — even those who are not members of any unions — responded by joining the actions.

Strasbourg, France, Feb. 11, 2023. ‘Work less, live better.’ (Photo: L’Humanité)

Fewer than 9% of the French are union members, which is even less than the percentage of union workers in the U.S. But French unions have a major political clout and often lead big political struggles.

Another day of nationwide protests and one-day strikes is planned for Feb. 16.

If Macron’s government refuses to consider the people’s demands regarding pensions, the inter-union coalition is calling for hardening the unions’ struggles and a total work stoppage in all sectors of the economy for March 7. They plan a big effort on March 8 — International Working Women’s Day — to explain the pernicious effects these pension changes will have on women’s retirement.

The union leaders say they will have won if the government withdraws its proposal.

Portugal, Spain

While workers in France have been in the sharpest struggles, there have been actions throughout Western Europe. Hundreds of thousands of Spain’s health workers protested in Madrid and in Santiago de Compostela Feb. 12 against the destruction of the public health system.

In Portugal, rail workers are striking, and 150,000 teachers demonstrated in Lisbon on Feb. 11 to demand higher pay, better working conditions and respect.

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