France: Unions move to block Macron’s plan to raise pension age

The French unions are conducting a day of widespread strikes and protests over President Macron’s proposals to raise the retirement age, putting the reform agenda on the line.

The official retirement age will increase from 62 to 64 thanks to a new measure that must be approved by parliament.

Services for commuter and intercity trains have been severely impacted by the industrial action.

Numerous public facilities, including schools, are closed. One out of every five flights at Paris’ Orly airport has been cancelled.

Only the two driverless lines of the Paris Metro are operating normally.

Thousands-strong protests are anticipated in Paris and other cities, and police will be present in large numbers to prevent any violence by ultra-left “black bloc” infiltrators.

In accordance with the plans presented earlier this month by Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne, starting in 2027, individuals will need to work 43 years in addition to the current 42 years to be eligible for a full pension.

According to a recent IFOP poll, 68% of the population opposes the reform, despite it being hailed by the administration as a crucial step in preserving France’s ‘share-out’ pension system.

All of the nation’s unions, as well as the left- and far-right opposition parties in the National Assembly, have denounced the bill, even the so-called “reformist” unions that the administration had intended to persuade to support it.

Fabien Roussel, the leader of the Communist Party, stated on Tuesday that “on Thursday, the walls of the Élysée palace must tremble.”

French President Emmanuel Macron will be forced to rely on backing from the 60 or so lawmakers from the conservative Republicans party because his Renaissance party does not hold a majority in the Assembly. Even while they are in principle in favour of pension reform, some of them have expressed concern over their potential vote.

Mr. Macron is up against a persistent campaign of opposition, and additional days of action are likely in the days to come given that the legislative procedure is anticipated to last several weeks. Rolling strikes in the transportation, medical, and fuel industries, which would practically put the nation to a stop, would be the government’s worst nightmare.

Political observers concurred that it was difficult to judge the nation’s attitude, making it impossible to forecast if the movement’s size would be sufficient to compel the president to make a retreat. If that occurred, it might spell the end of significant reforms during his second term.

On the one hand, the energy crisis, inflation, and regular allegations of failing public services have made many people agitated and irascible. The “yellow-vest” uprising four years ago was fueled in part by President Macron’s bad reputation outside of affluent areas, and it very well may do so again.

However, pollsters have also noted a sense of resignation among many people, who no longer connect with “old-school” social movements like those that the unions are known for. Many people won’t strike because they would rather not lose a day’s pay.

In order to defend his decision to make people work longer hours, the prime minister cited the idea of “inter-generational solidarity.” Few people in France have personal pension plans that are connected to capital investments.

Instead, the same pool of money that workers contribute to each month is used to pay retired people’s pensions. Workers are aware that after they retire, they will continue to get the same benefits.

But according to the administration, the system is doomed since the proportion of people working and those in retirement is gradually declining. The ratio has decreased from four employees for every retiree fifty years ago to about 1.7 today, and it will continue to decline in the coming years.

The official retirement age has been raised in almost all other European nations; for instance, it is now 67 in Italy and Germany and 65 in Spain. It is now 66 in the UK.

At the end of 2019, President Macron launched an earlier and more comprehensive attempt to overhaul the system, but he abandoned it after Covid struck. This second strategy was included in his manifesto for re-election last year and was a crucial justification used by the government to win over the public.

Elisabeth Borne has pledged easier options to retire early for those in hazardous or physically demanding jobs, initiatives to attract older people back into the workforce, and a greater guaranteed minimum pension in an effort to mitigate the effects of the reform.

According to the opposition, there is no immediate need for action because the system is not currently technically in deficit. It claims there are less expensive options to have people work longer, such reducing pensions for the wealthy.

Additionally, it states that the poorest will bear the burden of the reform. Due to their propensity to begin working early in life, these individuals are typically eligible for a full pension by the age of 62. They will now have to work two more years for no additional pay.

Since President François Mitterrand lowered the retirement age to 60 in 1982, France has undergone seven pension reforms.

Every subsequent attempt to undo that shift has been met with fierce public opposition, yet in most cases the reform was ultimately successful. For instance, despite weeks of demonstrations, Nicolas Sarkozy increased the retirement age to 62 in 2010.

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