(Paris) Monster demonstrations, renewable strikes in strategic sectors: the unions in France are putting all their forces into the battle against the pension reform, betting on Tuesday to put the country “to a halt” to finally bend the government.
This reform wanted by President Emmanuel Macron plans, among other things, to raise the retirement age to 64, currently set at 62. It is this point which crystallizes all the oppositions.
The bill, under discussion in the Senate, has already brought millions of French people to the streets and given rise to heated debates in the National Assembly. The government has so far refused to go back on its plan, despite five days of action.
The eight main French unions and five youth organizations promised to do everything to block the country on Tuesday in order to force the government to give up.
Together, they intend to mobilize even more than on January 31, when the police had identified 1.27 million participants and the inter-union more than 2.5 million.
According to police sources, between 1.1 and 1.4 million demonstrators are expected, including 60 to 90,000 in Paris.
The mobilization is moving into “higher gear”, assures Philippe Martinez, number one of the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), one of the main French unions, in the Sunday newspaper.
Major disruptions are expected in urban and rail transport, all the unions having called for a renewable strike at the SNCF, the French railways and at the RATP, which manages the Paris metro, from March 7.
As of Sunday evening, truckers plan to disengage with the key to blockages of industrial zones or snail operations.
“Withdrawal from reform”
In the air, the General Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGAC) asked companies to give up Tuesday and Wednesday between 20 and 30% of their flights, in anticipation of the air traffic controllers’ strike.
Other professions are called to the renewable strike “until the withdrawal of the reform”, at the invitation of the CGT: refiners, electricians and gas workers, garbage collectors, stevedores, glass and ceramics workers… The general secretary of the CGT federation of chemistry, Emmanuel Lépine, saying he is ready to “bring the French economy to its knees” to win its case.
In the agri-food sector, the CGT is calling on the big French sugar producers to shut down from Tuesday. The story is the same in the slaughterhouses of the Bigard group.
In energy, the strike began on Friday afternoon with production cuts in several nuclear power plants.
The Minister of Transport Clément Beaune, questioned on Sunday about the prospect of a possible blockage of the country or a threat to fuel supplies, refused to believe it: “I do not believe that we will be in an irresponsible or blocking movement, we will do everything to avoid it,” he said.
The teachers will be on strike again.
The unions also expect more unusual initiatives: construction sites stopped, store curtains closed, tolls open, roads blocked…
The week will be dotted with other mobilizations, in parallel with the debates in the Senate, which will end no matter what happens on Friday.
March 8, International Women’s Day, will this year be placed under the sign of a pension reform deemed particularly unfair for them.
Mothers are in fact at risk of being penalized, because they are now reaching 62 with quarters validated thanks to their maternity, which could be “neutralized” with hindsight at 64, the government acknowledged.
And the high school and student movements announced a day of mobilization on the 9th. “Block everything you can”, encouraged them on Friday the leader of the party France insubordinate (LFI, left) Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Union leaders are waiting this time, after several successful mobilizations, for a response to their demands.
“The first sequel to March 7 is a political speech, from the government or from the President of the Republic,” said Yvan Ricordeau, national secretary to the CFDT, the other major French union with the CGT.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has planned to speak on Monday evening on television.
Saturday evening, the Minister of Labor Olivier Dussopt defended a “left-wing reform” and “without losers” while on the sidelines of a visit to the agricultural fair, his counterpart of Public Accounts Gabriel Attal raised his voice by denouncing strikes that will block the French “who toil”.
Pensions: the French reform from A to Z
From the legal age to the ZAD, from Laurent Berger to Olivier Dussopt, pension reform has its lexicon, made up of proper and common names that define the terms of the debate and its multiple issues.
Both cornerstone and stumbling block of the reform. Today set at 62, Emmanuel Macron first wanted to increase it to 65, before lowering it to reach 64 in 2030.
Undisputed leader of an unprecedented inter-union, the aptly named boss of the CFDT guides the troops of opponents of the reform.
Key to a compromise with the right-wing deputies, who obtained that those who started before the age of 21 can leave before the age of 64. At the cost of an internal crisis between their leader Eric Ciotti and his right-hand man Aurélien Pradié, fired after playing the one-upmanship.
Duration (of contribution)
Second age measure of the reform, which accelerates the transition from 42 annuities (168 quarters) for a full pension today, to 43 (172 quarters) by 2027, eight years earlier than planned.
Stated objective of the reform, faced with the announced return of a double-digit deficit in the pension system, up to 13.5 billion euros in 2030, in the optimistic scenario of “full employment” with a reduced unemployment rate at 4.5%.
Weak point of the executive, which is struggling to get rid of grievances against a reform requiring more effort from women, forced to lengthen their careers more than men. Even if it would have the effect of closing the gap in pensions between the two sexes a little.
Trade union Grail, facing a government that the big demonstrations leave cold. But also bone of contention between hardliners ready to “bring the economy to its knees” and strategists worried that the “level of hassle” will turn public opinion upside down.
Historical and skilfully led, the united front of the eight main French unions has held up so far despite their heterogeneity, the shared rejection of the reform prevailing over the tactical differences.
Idea inspired by the indicator set up to measure gender equality in companies. Supposed to expose good and bad students of employment for the over 50s, but its detractors point to a gadget.
Expected by the unions, feared by the government, their mobilization would change the nature of the social movement. But the blockages of high schools and universities remain sporadic, a sign of a lack of interest in a reform which first concerns their parents.
Relentless conclusion of a fight in which each side wants to strike the fatal blow: if the executive backs down, the five-year term will be over before it started; if the reform passes, the failure of the unions will give discharge to less peaceful actors.
The leader of the far right, which is not the subject of choice, is almost silent on pensions. After having advocated the 60 years for all then a progressive departure until 67 years, it lets pass the fight by hoping to pocket the political gain.
The metallurgist is waging his last major battle at the head of the CGT, while maneuvering so that the teacher Marie Buisson succeeds him at the next congress of the trade union center at the end of March.
The alliance of left-wing parties thought it was skillful in playing the obstruction in the Assembly. A strategy that ultimately led to division, the rebels refusing to withdraw their thousands of amendments to speed up the debates as demanded by the unions.
On the front line of a reform which will perhaps not bear his name, the Minister of Labor from the left is taking all the blows from his former camp. Caught up by a case of “favouritism”, he must also prepare to face justice.
Main counterpart to the passage to 64 years, the promise of a revaluation for 10% of current pensioners and a quarter of future pensioners has become a problem for the government, punished for its approximations on the typical case of 1200 euros after a complete career in the minimum wage.
Five year term
More than a simple pension reform, this project is the keystone of Emmanuel Macron’s second term, who did not hide from his campaign to expect savings and “wealth creation”. So much room for maneuver essential to finance its other priorities, such as defense and education.
Electricians, gas workers and Paris metro drivers are in the crosshairs of the government, which wants to put an end to the early departures in force in these professions. But only future recruits will leave at age 64, under the “grandfather clause” already at work among railway workers.
Only hemicycle where the executive can hope for a positive vote, affixing on its reform the democratic seal which it still lacks. But this salvation presupposes concessions to right-wing senators, at the risk of sacrificing the sacrosanct restoration of accounts.
The real subject behind the reform, as the health crisis revealed high expectations for working conditions, then inflation brought wage demands to the fore.
Grand design of Macron’s first five-year term, the points-based “universal pension system” was brought to a halt by COVID-19. Officially abandoned, even if within the majority some nostalgic deputies still hope to revive it.
Never had an amending budget for Social Security (Sécu) been used to pass a pension reform. The government can thus shorten the debates in Parliament after 50 days and use the weapon of 49.3 at will to force through if necessary.
Zizanie promised by the head of the ecologists well before the opening of hostilities. Applied with zeal to the Assembly, where the bazaar lasted fifteen days. Unthinkable in the Senate, where the atmosphere is always more zen.