Almost 1.5 million people took to the streets of France on Thursday, December 5, in a national strike against the pension reforms proposed by French president Emmanuel Macron. Demonstrations were held in around 250 places across the country. The call for the protest was given by around 30 unions, including the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), Workers Force (FO), Solidaires, FSU, FIDL, MNL, UNL, Unef etc. Macron’s proposal replaces the various pension schemes across sectors with one scheme that will extend the number of working years.
On Thursday, 100,000 people marched in Paris alone. Huge protests also took place in Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseilles and Nantes. The police responded harshly, spraying tear gas and using water cannons against protesters. Large contingents of Red Vests and Yellow Vests protesters joined the mobilization in a number of places.
Emmanuel Macron plans to introduce a universal points-based pension system in place of the current system of 42 different pension schemes across private and public sectors, with variations in retirement age and benefits.
According to the new proposal, from 2025, workers will have to toil till the age of 64 to avail of full pension benefits. The current retirement age is 62. Here, the contributions of the employees during their career will be graded as points, which will be used to calculate their pension amounts in Euros. As of now, each point has not been given a specific valuation, as it is subject to fluctuations in the economy. The French government wants the bill passed before the summer of 2020. The new system will introduce a lot of uncertainty to the pension system and will lead to the withdrawal of many benefits.
CGT had said that the protests of December 5 were historic, both in terms of the rate of mobilization in each major city and the extent of the strike in companies. The union said the mobilizations demonstrated the refusal of a large majority of workers, retirees and young people to see their social protection system sacrificed on the altar of economic freedom. “Both at workplaces and on the streets, we claim a fair reform of our retirement system that takes into account the different realities of work, duration of studies and gender equality and which allows retiring with full benefits,” the union added.
Political parties, including the French Communist Party (PCF), youth groups including MJCF and student groups including UEC, participated in the national strike. A number of European trade unions expressed solidarity with the French workers.
The PCF has called for a 20% increase in the Minimum Interprofessional Growth Wage (SMIC) as of January 1, 2020, and the convening of a national conference on wages. The party also demanded that the government increase wages and pensions.
According to an online survey conducted by Harris Interactive on December 3, 69% of French citizens support the movement against the pension reforms. French workers have been consistently struggling against Macron’s proposal. Huge protests were held on September 13 and September 24 against the reforms.