Written by: Joy Banerjee
Photo : Shutterstock.com
On Wednesday May 31, the Social Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, lower house of the French parliament, has rejected article 1 of a bill proposed by the Liot group (center-left and center-right MPs) to reverse the government’s reform and raise the legal retirement age, while adopting the rest of the text, forcing the opposition group to reintroduce the measure through an amendment if it wants it to be debated in the National Assembly. This gave impetus to the next demonstration called by the inter-union group on June 6 for the withdrawal of the pension reform.
A brief Background
The trade unions and worker organisations are calling on the French people to demonstrate for the fourteenth time against pension reform adopted successively by the Senate, the upper house, on March 11 and the National Assembly on April 20. The law, which calls for a retirement age of 64 instead of the current 62, was promulgated by Emmanuel Macron on April 15 after its validation by the Constitutional Court on 14 Avril. But the unions are not giving up yet. Many observers abroad do not understand the obstinacy of the French people, who still do not want this reform, despite the few adjustments obtained by right-wing deputies in the National Assembly, such as early retirement for long careers, or retirement at 63 for mothers with children. Even today, according to opinion polls, 70% of the population is against the reform. The President, who wants to turn over a new leaf, has to face angry demonstrators banging on pots and pans on every one of his trips… and the latest demonstration on May 1 saw the number of violent incidents increase considerably.
In this balance of power between the unions and the head of state, the former seem to have been strengthened by the mobilisation. The CFDT, the so-called reformist union, number 1 in the private sector, has announced a significant increase in the number of new members. The CGT, a union more firmly rooted in the public services, and more “inclined to the left”, is asserting that it will not give up the fight until the reform is withdrawn outright. In its program, the CGT even proposes retirement at 60…
For the record, retirement at 60 was adopted in 1982 under former Socialist President François Mitterrand. Both the public and private sectors were concerned. Successive reforms under various right-wing governments reduced the retirement age to 62.
Even today, the unions believe that a retirement age of 62 is possible, even though the average life expectancy is increasing, with more and more pensioners having to pay a monthly pension. The unions are basing their position on a report by the COR (Conseil d’Orientation des Retraites), which they do not consider alarming in terms of the deficit for the State’s finances. The unions believe that the forecast deficit of 10 billion euros in 2039 does not jeopardize the pay-as-you-go pension system, which was set up after the war in 1945. The greatest fear of the French people is that this pay-as-you-go pension system will be replaced by a capitalized system such as exists in the United States, India…
Beyond these important social issues, French workers don’t understand the point of this reform, which will affect them directly. After a lifetime of hard work, why shouldn’t workers finally enjoy a well-deserved rest? Especially since, in most companies, keeping older workers in employment is a major problem. And last but not least, it’s the workers who started early and have the most arduous jobs who will be most affected by this unfair reform. If people are out in the streets, it’s also because they want us to talk about the hardship of work, the organization of working hours, and in general, the meaning of work.
As soon as the reform was announced, the trade unions put forward concrete proposals to guarantee the financing of the pay-as-you-go pension system. The CGT, for example, is proposing an end to the exemption from employer contributions, an increase in these same contributions, equal pay for men and women…
This law on pensions has led to a major political crisis in France. Some even speak of a democratic crisis, given the reform’s heavy-handedness and lack of dialogue with the unions. It’s true that in many European countries, people retire at 65 or even 67. But France must continue to set an example of social progress. This is what the French trade unions are ardently defending, as they continue to call for the withdrawal of the pension reform. Next meeting on June 6…
About the author :
Former journalist at France Télévisions & Former SNJ-CGT trade unionist