On January 31st, France saw widespread strikes as workers across the country took to the streets to protest against the government’s proposed pension reforms. In Paris, the strike brought the city to a standstill as public transportation was severely disrupted, with only minimal services operating. Trade unions and left-wing political parties are at the forefront of the strikes, which are part of a larger movement against the government’s proposed reforms to the country’s pension system that would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. The government has pledged to press ahead with the reforms, but it remains to be seen how the situation will develop in the coming days and weeks. This video is part of a special Workers of the World series on the cost of living crisis in Europe.
Producer: T. Kelly
Videographer: Timothée Zourabichvili
Video editors: Timothée Zourabichvili & Leo Erhardt
This story, with the support of the Bertha Foundation, is part of The Real News Network’s Workers of the World series, telling the stories of workers around the globe building collective power and redefining the future of work on their own terms.
Narration: A coalition of major labor unions, opposition political parties, and activist groups are continuing their campaign of strikes and associated protests across France. On January 31st 2023, millions of people went on strike once again to increase pressure against Emmanuel Macron’s government’s plans to raise the retirement age two years to 64. The CGT labor union counted more than 500,000 protesters in Paris and more than 2 million nationwide, which was a higher turnout than the January 19th demonstration. Schools, transport networks, electricity production, and oil deliveries were all affected.
Stephane Destugues, General Secretary of the Steel Industry Federation: Today we demand a fair pension reform which takes into account all our pensions paid and the toil of our jobs. In our field, there is a lot of hard work, especially in the steel industry and factories, making it difficult to work until 64 years old. Of course, we have to do something for pension reform, but postponing the retirement age is not the right decision. In the next few years, young people will enter the workforce later and will also have to retire later. We should listen to all unions before we make these decisions, not just the congressmen, senators, and the government.
Atika Darras, Orly Airport Support Officer: I am demonstrating for myself, my children, all working people, and my grandchildren. My pension will be fine, but the problem is for future generations. The president gives power to the bosses while we are crushed. There is no hope with this president. He does not see the poor people who suffer, who wake up early in the morning to go to work and come home late at night. The bosses think they are heroes and can do what they want with their employees, but the employees are the ones who suffer. We will not give up!
Remy Clarac, a computer engineering consultant: We have come to defend the counter-project to the pension reform because we think it is unfair and we want to raise our voice. The delay of the retirement period is unnecessary, and we want the government to change its project. This reform is said to solve the economic problems of the pension, but in reality, it is solving other economic problems, and we do not want the workers to pay for it. We want to keep our pay-as-you-go system and not become like the USA. We want solidarity to be a higher value than profits and capital, and we want the government to listen to us and stop their project that only benefits the richest.
Narration: In 2010, right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy raised the retirement age from 60 to 62. Macron’s current right-wing government has proposed sweeping reforms in a similar vein that were initially halted by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, with lockdowns and the 2022 election win behind him, Macron has tried again with the reforms.
Etienne/Jeanne, Spectacles Intermittent Workers: I am against this reform which is very unfair. More than 9 out of 10 current employees are against this project, and more than 60% of the population. For five years we’ve been fighting against this reform, and it’s still not over. It’s time for the government to listen to us and to the majority of citizens on issues of climate change, society, etc… and today there is a great citizen mobilization because of this reform. Parliamentarians are also mobilizing massively, against this very unfair reform. But the government still does not listen to us, so the only solution is to be in great numbers today, and really some kind of convergence of struggles. We really need to all be here, not only a part of the population, but the young, the old, the hospital workers, the teachers, the LGBT people… There really is an intersection that has to be dealt with to create a balance of power, because there’s no other way to get them to listen to us.
Gerard Eunice. Firefighter: Today we are in solidarity with many different professions, against this reform, which seems to us totally unjust and unfair. As firefighters, we enjoy a special status because of the dangerous nature of our work, and we want to defend it. But we are here in solidarity for all professions. Society continues to evolve and firefighters are faced with more and more dangers nowadays, during our missions, which sometimes involve difficult relations with the citizens. On the one hand, the state places medals on our coffin, but on the other hand the state is incapable of recognizing the danger of our work. This reform shows us once again the total disrespect for our professions. A European professional firefighter today has an average age of death of 66 years, so the least would have been to recognize this fact with this reform. But they haven’t done so. We have a government that only engages in dialog to get people to talk. If it’s just to get people to talk, it’s pointless. So today it’s a government that makes people talk while bragging about organizing reunions, but if it’s just about people expressing themselves without really listening to them. That’s not negotiation, that’s not dialog.
Narration: A poll by the OpinionWay survey group showed that 61 percent of French people supported the protest movement, a rise of three percentage points from January 12. The government has since failed to backtrack on the reforms. There was a significant police presence at the demonstration which ended with clashes with protestors, the use of tear gas and some arrests. More nationwide general strikes and protests are planned for later in February.
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