French protesters see risk to social justice in Macron’s reform

Enormous crowds marched throughout France on Tuesday in a brand new spherical of protests towards President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to boost the retirement age, signalling the opposition’s success in framing the pension debate as a part of a broader battle towards an financial platform they understand as unfair.

Although police and union figures differed, all agreed the variety of demonstrators had elevated in comparison with a primary spherical of protests on January 19, piling strain on a authorities that’s struggling to persuade voters of the necessity for a pension overhaul that features elevating the authorized retirement age from 62 to 64.

In Paris, the place an estimated half one million individuals took to the streets, tens of hundreds of marchers have been nonetheless ready to set off as daylight light on the sprawling Place d’Italie, a number of hours after the occasion kicked off. Reflecting the extent of opposition to the reform, the mass rally included each veteran unionists and novices, younger and previous, together with some who stated that they had by no means attended a protest earlier than.

“I by no means used to protest, however this time the federal government is pushing too far,” stated 58-year-old Geraldine, a lab technician on the close by Pitié-Salpetrière hospital, who declined to present her full title.

“I’ve labored 38 years already, [Covid] pandemic included, and I’m completely exhausted,” she stated. “It’s not simply two extra years that the federal government desires us to work. It’s two extra years underneath ever worsening situations – and at an age when most of us are now not match for the job.”

Folks like Geraldine, who received her first full-time job aged 20 and later labored part-time to boost her daughter, have most to lose from the proposed reform, which might require them to work longer to qualify for a full pension.

So do unskilled employees like Ayed, a inventory controller at a neighborhood grocery store who wore the pink vest of the Pressure Ouvrière commerce union as he marched by Paris. “I am 42 and my again is already bust from carrying heavy hundreds all day lengthy – how am I supposed to maintain getting in 20 years’ time?” he requested.

>> ‘I can’t take any extra’: Working-class French lament Macron’s push to boost retirement age

The federal government has signalled there may be wiggle room on some measures as parliamentary committees begin analyzing the draft regulation this week. However guarantees to enhance situations for individuals who began working very younger, or for moms who interrupted their careers to take care of kids, have did not offset the notion of a reform that hurts the susceptible most.

Discuss of the textual content’s gender imbalance has gained explicit traction, not least since certainly one of Macron’s personal ministers admitted final week that it might “go away ladies a bit penalised” – in certainly one of a number of PR blunders which have marred the federal government’s makes an attempt to advertise its more and more unpopular plan.

“We at all times knew ladies would get screwed – however the truth that they need to admit it so casually, is just baffling,” stated 16-year-old Mia exterior her highschool in Paris, the place college students confirmed up at 6 o’clock within the morning hoping to blockade the constructing – solely to seek out that riot police had received there first.

Elsewhere, college students did achieve occupying a handful of colleges and college buildings, whereas a nationwide strike backed by all of France’s key unions introduced disruption to public transport and oil refineries, with extra strike motion anticipated within the days and weeks to return.

‘Pointless and unfair’

Macron has staked his reformist credentials on passage of his flagship pension overhaul, which polls say round two thirds of the French now oppose – a determine that has risen steadily in current weeks.

“The extra French individuals discover out concerning the reform, the much less they assist it,” Frederic Dabi, a outstanding pollster on the Ifop institute, instructed AFP. “This isn’t good in any respect for the federal government.”

Whereas Macron and his authorities insist on the cost-cutting deserves of their proposed reform, their opponents have succeeded in framing the controversy in a lot bigger phrases, specializing in the questions of how wealth is distributed underneath Macron, and whether or not the poorest will carry the burden of his proposals.

“The pension plan is each regressive when it comes to high quality of life and economically unfair – that means it’s essentially at odds with our imaginative and prescient,” argued Sophia Chikirou, a lawmaker from the left-wing France Unbowed (LFI) get together, on the rally in Paris.

As 21-year-old protester Lalie Geffriaud put it, “It’s not nearly pension reform – it’s a couple of broader opposition to the path this nation is taking.”

>> Will strikes drive Macron to again down over French pension reforms?

The federal government says its proposals are essential to preserve the pension system solvent because the life expectancy of the French has grown and start charges have declined. However unions and left-wing events need huge corporations or wealthier households to pitch in additional to stability the pension funds as an alternative.

Including to the federal government’s woes, its essential argument was undercut earlier this month when the nation’s unbiased Pension Advisory Council instructed parliament that “pension spending just isn’t uncontrolled – it is comparatively contained”. The evaluation solely strengthened a broadly held perception that the reform calls for useless sacrifices of the French, at a time when they’re grappling with an inflation disaster and nonetheless recovering from the Covid pandemic.

“This reform is solely pointless – on high of being unfair,” stated retired scientist Mireille Cuniot, 69, rallying on Tuesday with dozens of different ladies dressed as Rosie the Riveter in her iconic blue overalls.

She added: “It’s a reform that modifications nothing for the very best earners and weighs solely on the extra susceptible – you couldn’t make it any extra unfair!”

Protesters dressed as feminist icon Rosie the Riveter at the rally in Paris.
Protesters dressed as feminist icon Rosie the Riveter on the rally in Paris. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24

Discuss of the reform’s perceived inequity was a recurrent theme on the protest, which drew from effectively past the ranks of the left.

“It’s the unfairness that’s most stunning; it’s at all times the working lessons who find yourself paying most,” stated main college trainer Eric Schwab, who described himself as leaning to the centre-right. He held up a banner that learn, “I refuse to waste my life making an attempt to earn a residing”.

Schwab took situation with the federal government’s behavior of evaluating France’s authorized retirement age – one of many lowest in Europe – with that of its neighbours, noting that present guidelines already require many French employees to retire effectively previous the age of 62 with a purpose to qualify for a full pension.

“They solely examine us with different international locations when it fits them,” he stated. “What they received’t acknowledge, is that Germans who do the identical job as me earn twice as a lot and with lessons half the dimensions.”

The proposed modifications are about greater than elevating the retirement age, Schwab added, denouncing an “ultra-liberal” financial platform stacked in favour of the wealthy.

“After the monetary disaster in 2008, governments someway discovered billions of euros to bail out the banks,” he stated. “They know the place to seek out the cash when they should – notably when it’s our cash they’re spending.”

Macron's critics accuse him of pushing the same neoliberal agenda as the former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
Macron’s critics accuse him of pushing the identical neoliberal agenda as the previous British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. © Benjamin Dodman, FRANCE 24


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