Mass strikes in France over proposed increase to retirement age

French workers rally near the Bastille

7th September 2010 - In response to the government's proposal to raise the pension age from 60 to 62, French workers have held widespread strikes that brought severe disruption to the French economy.

French unions have claimed that up to three million people have taken part in street protests amid a national strike against France's economic policies.

Police gave an estimate of 1.2 million people at rallies nationwide.

Schools have been closed and public transport disrupted, with demonstrations held in about 200 towns.

Unions are demanding more is spent to protect workers in the recession. Unemployment has reached two million and is expected to rise further.

Union members marched towards the Place de la Nation in Paris behind a banner that read: "United against the crisis, defend employment, spending power and public services."

"They have a profound sense of social injustice," said Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the large Force Ouvriere union, "and that, I think, is something that neither the government nor the employers have understood."

Benoit Hamon, a spokesman for the French Socialist Party spokesman said France was experiencing similar problems to other countries, but that the situation was being made worse by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"We have a president who aggravates the crisis by making the wrong economic and social choices, by his deafness regarding the general dissatisfaction," said Mr Hamom.

"He refuses to give answers regarding layoffs, regarding the cost of living, regarding the way to objectively avoid the rise in job losses in the public sector or in the public health system."

Marches were also being held in Marseille, Lyon, Grenoble and many other towns and cities.

Noel Kouici, demonstrating in Marseilles, said protesters had a "grudge" against the government.

"Of course we are angry against the government when you see the way they serve the banks and leave the people starving and losing their jobs," he said.

But the deputy mayor of Marseille, Roland Blum, told the BBC the government had done a lot to help people.

"Of course I understand the distress of people who've lost or are going to lose their jobs, but what I think is necessary is that we all work together," he said.

There protests were largely peaceful but minor scuffles were reported in several cities later in the evening.

In Paris, police used tear gas to disperse small groups of youths who were setting fire to rubbish bins and throwing bottles.

It is the second time in two months that major demonstrations have been held, following a similar display in January which drew about a million protesters.

Beleaguered industries

The strikes began on Wednesday evening on transport networks.

An employee assists commuters at Gare Saint-Lazare train in Paris (19 March 2009)
French commuters face a limited rail service because of the strike

The national rail operator, SNCF, cancelled 40% of high-speed trains and half of regional services.

A third of flights out of Paris's Orly airport have been cancelled, while a tenth of France's electricity output has been shut down with workers on strike.

However, buses and the Metro rail system in Paris were running normally, thanks to a new law enforcing a minimum transport service during strikes,.

But with many schools and public buildings shut for the day, the number of workers travelling into the capital was reduced.

Private-sector firms were also expecting a depleted workforce, with staff from the beleaguered car industry, oil and retail sectors taking part in the strike.

Comments

baboon
Sep 9 2010 15:14

I think that the size and general snippets of the tenor of these demonstrations across France (leaving aside the deafening whistles and vuvuzelas) is a good indication of the intact combativity of the working class in western Europe.
In Britain, the bourgeosie are preparing the ground and the BBC is doing its part by running a series of programmes asking "the population" how it wants to be attacked.
In Spain struggles continue and the ICC's French website carries a message of solidarity and support from postal workers to the striking metro workers. Here's a link in French: http://fr.internationalism.org/icconline/2010/lettre_de_solidarite_d_un_groupe_de_postiers_de_madrid_avec_les_grevistes_du_metro.html

varlet
Sep 9 2010 23:38

This is just a big one off show of force by the unions which will have no impact on the government's decision over the new pensions law. There's been a few spectacular demonstrations like this in the last year or two, to no effect.
Consider this: the law is going to be voted for a first time in parliament on 15th September, and the unions have just called for a second day of strike on... the 23rd September. How pointless is that?
What is needed is a strong, united, sustained grassroots movement.
What we have here is exactly the opposite and the unions are only preventing the possible rising up of a movement. These protests are counter-productive as the unions use them to take control of the resistance, only to then play it down and crush a possible movement.
Enough with this anti-union rant but as usual, they are totally letting the working-class down.

And it is indeed the working class that is going to be hit hardest by the new pension law, if it comes into effect, as a factory or manual worker's life expectancy is obviously lower than that of an executive.
According to a recent study, workers are on average being hit by incapacity from about 59 while executives or office managers only from 69 onwards. With the new plan, workers retiring "early" (as in before 62) would not get their full pension. So after a life of measly wages, they would only get a measly pension, and they wont even be to take advantage from their retirement time.

If it comes into effect, the pension law will only aggravate the inequalities that already exist.
Women would also suffer a lot from the new system. They already get on average about 2/3 of what men get for their pensions. The new system would force them to contribute for longer to get a full pension, which is generally harder as they have more breaks into their working lives than men, and tend to have precarious jobs (as opposed to a life long career) more than men do.

What the government is trying to do is to push workers into getting extra private pension schemes. They are pushing for a pension system more on the lines of what there is in the US (private schemes run in lines with the stock exchange) and less based on general contribution, then redistribution.
The well-off will be able to get extra pension schemes from private companies while low waged workers wont. Again, this will only aggravate the inequalities that already exist.

To come back to the demonstrations issue, with the "minimum service" law recently introduced by the government, strikes like the ones weve just seen are made less effective. And with the unions trying hard to impede a strong grassroots resistance to rise up, its not looking good.
Lets hope things get out of control and build up to a proper struggle, like in 1995 when a six weeks transport strike defeated the latest government retirement / pension plan.