Protests against pension reform rage across France

Talks between the government and trade unionists on Wednesday failed after the government refused to roll back the controversial reforms that will increase the retirement age in France

April 07, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
7-04 French Protests
Protest in Dunkirk. (Photo: via UL CGT Dunkirk/Twitter)

Around two million people hit the streets across France on Thursday, April 6, to protest the pension reforms forcefully passed by the government of Emmanuel Macron. Thursday marked the eleventh major protest against the reforms since January 19. The unpopular reforms will increase restrictions on accessing pensions in the country.

During Thursday’s national mobilization, police tried to forcefully quell the protests in many cities and reportedly made around 111 arrests. A coalition of trade unions have called for another round of mobilization on April 13, a day before the decision of the Constitutional Council over the implementation of the reforms is due.

The national mobilization took place a day after talks between the trade union leadership and French Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne. Unions reported that the dialogue was unsuccessful as the government refused to roll back the reforms.

On April 6, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) said that “in the coming weeks, the CGT will continue to demand the outright withdrawal of the reform for the thousands of workers, young people, who believe in victory. It calls for the responsibility of the Constitutional Council, which must be attentive to the just anger of workers.”

“We call on the world of work to mobilize, everywhere in services and companies, by calls for strike decided in General Assembly and to go on strike and demonstrate on Thursday, April 13 at the call of the inter-union and to continue with initiatives on April 14 when the Constitutional Council will render its decisions on the pension reform, until withdrawal,” CGT added.

The pension reforms were announced by Borne on January 10. The reforms stipulate the phased raising of the retirement age in France from 62 to 64, at the rate of three months per year, from September 1, 2023 until 2030 and increase the contribution period necessary to obtain a “full-rate” pension, i.e. without discount, from the current 42 years (168 quarters) to 43 years (172 quarters) by 2027, at the rate of one quarter per year. 

Shortly following the announcement in January, massive protests were organized against the reforms by trade unions and the left-wing coalition New Ecologic and Social Peoples Union’s (NUPES). However, on March 16, Prime Minister Borne invoked emergency provision Article 49.3 of the constitution to bypass voting in the National Assembly and then passed the law which includes the controversial pension reforms. The protests intensified when the government survived a vote of no-confidence on March 20, which had been tabled by opposition groups in the National Assembly, but failed after falling short of just nine votes.

Read: Pension reform or Revolution! Crisis for the French Fifth Republic?

According to reports, Macron plans to enforce the reforms by the end of the year and believes that the protests will gradually lose steam. In the face of this, unions and the French Left have called for more unity and plan to intensify the protests. They are currently waiting for the Constitutional Council’s decision on approval to the full text of the reforms undemocratically passed in the parliament. The opponents of the reforms are also planning to propose a Referendum of Shared Initiative (RIP) on the implementation of the reforms.

French Communist Party (PCF) leader Fabien Roussel MP told the media on April 4, “We call on the President of the Republic to take initiatives quickly to return the voice to the people. Respect parliamentarians and the people who are widely opposed to the reform. Withdraw the pension reform, find a way to renew the dialogue!”