Half of the teachers and tens of thousands of nurses and other public sector employees stayed home from work Thursday. Most Paris metro and regional trains have been cancelled, as have countless regular flights and trains.
At the same time, left-wing parties and trade union activists thronged the streets and squares. Hundreds of thousands demonstrated in more than 200 places in the country.
It is President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to raise the general retirement age from 62 to 64 that stirs anger in the depths of the people. The number of years of work required to receive the full pension will be increased to 43, while the French jungle of pension agreements is being cleaned up and the system made more uniform.
Macron believes the changes are necessary to secure funding for the pension system in a few years’ time. But a unified trade union movement is revolting.
– It is very unusual for all French trade unions to unite in this way. This is a strong signal. We are sending him to show how unfair reform we are, says Felipe Martinez, general secretary of the central trade union organization CGT.
Criticism aims, among other things Against the fact that those who start early in tiring careers risk getting hit hard. Today, those who suffer stress injuries are often forced into years of sick leave and unemployment while waiting for a pension. France is a country with major problems with age discrimination and relatively few opportunities for retraining, which critics say could result in thousands being forced to spend just another two years on unemployment.
The government is trying to address this by offering exemptions to people who start working before the age of 20. They will also still be able to retire at the age of 62.
But 56-year-old Nathalie, whom DN meets at a large demonstration in Paris, is no consolation.
– I spent six years when I was unemployed, and with this new system there are almost no margins. Now I work in marketing for a construction company, but it has been hit hard by inflation. So I am very afraid of losing my job. At my age, it’s almost impossible to find a new job, says Natalie.
Along with her 20-year-old daughter, Margaux, she holds a banner that reads, “Macron is a hypocrite.”
– He himself said in an interview in 2017 that it would be hypocritical to raise the retirement age to 64, because many people over 55 are already unemployed, says Natalie.
66 percent of the French They tend negatively to reform, as a new survey from Elabe shows. At the same time, 58% support the protest movement.
Even people with a long education feel unfairly treated.
– I started working after my studies when I was 23 years old. Since then I have been unemployed for a few years. But with the new system, I’ll be able to get my full pension at least at the age of 67, and for those who want to work, that’s fine. The 35-year-old Hugo says life isn’t just about work.
The coalition of left-wing Nobis and its leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is using Thursday’s mobilization as leverage. But even right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen has criticized pension reform.
– All this shows the sadistic side of the government. Le Pen, who did not take part in Thursday’s protests, says it is only when the French are being hit hard by inflation and reduced purchasing power that pension reform is implemented – although the system has not yet begun to unravel.
Unions got support To many famous cultural figures and left-wing thinkers, such as Nobel laureate Annie Ernault, actor Adele Haenel and philosopher Étienne Balbar.
However, Emmanuel Macron can still count on strong support among liberal voters from the center and the right. His government has worked painstakingly to build a majority for the proposal in the National Assembly, although there are members of the right-wing Republican Party who are skeptical of helping his rival Macron.
In France, there is a political tradition of taking into account mass protests. If the demonstrations become as large as unions and left-wing parties hope, and if they continue week after week, the pressure on Macron could become so great that he will eventually be forced to back down. This is what the protesters want to achieve.
Eric de la Reguera: Mélenchon might be forced to retire if the protests fail
Sigrid Melchior: The real battle over raising the retirement age in France will take place in the streets
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