Protest movement in France against raising of retirement age peaks up momentum


On 10 January 2023, French Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne announced to gradually raise the retirement age (three months every year) from 62 to 64 years up to 2030. This announcement was met with vocal, widespread criticism, especially from left-wing parties and trade and student unions. France’s trade unions called for nationwide strike on 19 January 2023 involving public sector workers, teachers, nurses, railway and police unions and termed this move as a ‘‘social regression’’. Since then, strikes have been taking place frequently as the unions are strongly protesting against the government’s plans to make people work longer before retirement. Through their struggle over the wealth they create, workers in France had already won the right to retire with full pensions at age 62 —with certain adjustments, depending on the type of work. With the EU bankers demanding cuts to government deficits—in effect cutting social programs—Macron and Borne essentially imposed a wage cut by insisting on raising the retirement age to 64. It is estimated that by raising the pensionable age, Macron govt will have plus € 17 billion of savings per year on pension in 2030 ( It is evident that the main objective of the Macron government is not to save pensions but to compensate for future corporate tax cuts as it has promised to the European commission. This exposes the real aim of pension reform is only to help the corporate companies and Business houses. So, the workers have answered boldly, ‘‘No way,’’ and burst into militant protest including street demonstrations, throwing garbage on the streets to disrupt vehicular movement and strikes.
Protests pick up momentum
Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, (The French Democratic Confederation of Labour) is a national trade union center one of the five major French confederations of trade unions, having members (875,000) reportedly leading the protests. Massive protests have been held regularly throughout France since mid-January, with millions turning out to voice their opposition to the government’s plan. Many people from the ‘Yellow Vest movement’ of a few years ago have been joining the protests. They remember that Macron’s regime had police shoot out the eyes of Yellow Vest demonstrators with rubber-coated bullets. A national strike on 7 February 2023 against planned pension reforms reduced France’s power supply and disrupted petrol deliveries from French refineries. As a result, public transport and schools have also been affected. On the first day of these protests in March 2 million people demonstrated. On the sixth day, 7 March, 3.5 million people took to the streets after unions called for a resolute display of resistance ahead of its ninth day of nationwide industrial action scheduled on 16 March, protests were underway in cities like Bordeaux, Nantes, Marseille, Brest and other parts of Paris. Some angry protesters pelted paint against the shields of heavily equipped policemen outside La Rotonde, a famous Paris brasserie favoured by Macron.
Police in Paris banned gatherings on the central Place de La Concorde on 18 March last, as tens of thousands of citizens continued to protest for the third consecutive day and burned an effigy of President Emmanuel Macron after he pushed through his divisive pension overhaul bill without a parliamentary vote this past week. ‘The Economist’ reported on 30 March 2023, that about 740,000 demonstrators gathered across France on 28 March, for the tenth one-day national strike. ‘‘The night of 23 March saw 903 acts of arson in Paris, as anarchists, known as black blocs, joined in. Bins overflowing with stinking rubbish were torched. In Bordeaux rioters set the town-hall door alight. Across France, 457 people were arrested and 441 law officers injured, as well as uncounted numbers of protesters. The French police were accused of using excessive force’’, ‘The Economist’ reported on 1 April.
‘‘Everyone’s joining in, the government is afraid of more and more young people taking part,’’ said Céline, 53, a trade unionist for the leftwing CGT union who works in local government administration in Ivry town on the south-eastern edge of Paris and has been on the barricades at the trash plant since 5am most mornings. ‘‘There has been a denial of democracy,’’ she said. ‘‘Macron thinks of himself as a kind of king, Jupiter up high looking down on us. We’ve got to hold out until he listens.’’ ‘‘Don’t underestimate people’s power to mobilize,’’ said Amina, 19, a textiles student from the Paris banlieue. ‘‘I’m afraid of police violence and terrified to demonstrate at night, but I’ll join in during the day.’’ Outside the Duperré art school in Paris, students piled up a barricade of bins. Signs said raising the pension age to 64 would be met with a new May 1968, a reference to France’s famous students and workers’ strikes. For the 11th time since 19 January, millions of people in France, led by the workers of the major union confederations, especially the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), took to the streets all over the country on 6 April.
Meanwhile, the southern port city of Marseille called its own garbage strike, alongside other towns such as Le Havre. A slow dribble of very few rubbish trucks was now passing each day but not enough to ease Paris’s rubbish crisis. Thus, they have virtually been shutting France down. Meanwhile, tweets from many small-and medium-sized French cities showed a growing militancy. Perhaps this was rooted in the ‘Yellow Vest’ struggle— but this time it was led by a reinvigorated union movement. Police filled the streets of these towns and cities with tear gas. For over three months, there have been millions of people in the street, week after week, but there is no response from the government. Rather, the Macron government is pushing through the rise in retirement age.
Moreover, in order to break the strike, the Macron regime has attempted to ‘‘requisition’’ workers in key industries, like refineries and electric power plants, to force them to work. This is something like conscription, where the agents of the government deliver a summons to the worker; those who refuse work are jailed. In fact, after the first election of French President Emmanuel Macron in May 2017, the French government implemented significant labour market and tax reforms. By relaxing the rules on companies to hire and fire employees, the government cut production taxes by 15 percent in 2021, and the corporate tax fell to 25 percent in 2022. He also introduced tax reforms that would tax capital gains, interest and dividends at a flat 30 percent, instead of the existing top rate of 45 percent. During the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the French government provided support for businesses and households. The government’s center piece fiscal package was the €100 billion ($110 billion) France Relance plan, of which over half was dedicated to supporting businesses.
Why this retirement age extension is opposed by
French workers
Extension of retirement age means that the workers and employees will have to work up to 43 years to get a full pension. The Harmonized Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) is a measure based on the spending patterns of consumers in each EU country, weighted according to that country’s share of aggregate consumer spending. Harmonized inflation in France rose to 7.3% in February last, due to stronger food and housing price pressures. The phasing-out of government subsidies means high energy costs will linger. The France Unemployment Rate is projected to trend around 8.50 percent in 2024 and 8.40 percent in 2025 according to their econometric models. Economic activity is expected to remain subdued over the first half of 2023, with a stable first quarter. For the whole of 2023, GDP is forecast to expand only moderately in annual terms, by 0.6%. For the whole of 2024, GDP is forecast to expand by 1.4%”. It is indicative that the French economy is in shambles and cannot have uninterrupted growth in the period of intensified insolvable crisis of dying capitalism.
Rising inflation, tumbling economy, the energy crisis and constant reports of run-down public services have left many people feeling anxious and irascible. If one links inflation, in real terms, the pension amount would go down. Women are set to be the biggest losers with the new 43-year career requirement. In other words, millions of people have to work longer before they can enjoy their retirement benefits. It is a well-established fact that most of the people will have health issues even at present pensionable age, and further extension in pensionable age will push them into miserable and impoverished conditions.
It is said that 62 years is already excessive for half of the French people. Data shows that 25% of the poorest in France do not live at all until today’s pension granted at the age of 62 years. By contrast, at the age of 61, 25% have neither a job nor a pension. People are already struggling to survive in poverty, and after the changes, their situation will become even more desperate. For the French people in physical, grueling, lower-paid jobs, this reform means literally working until death. It means in the long run the government would save money, as the rate of survival after 62 years becomes less.
It is thus seen from above that the economic situation in France is more or less no different from the other European capitalist-imperialist countries. People are suffering equally from high inflation and increasing unemployment. Over and above the new pension reform bill to gradually raise the retirement age (three months every year) from 62 to 64 years up to 2030 is going to create further uncertainties in the lives of the people, particularly, those who were expecting to retire soon.
All support to fighting
French workers
As we know, it is a common feature in all capitalist-imperialist countries to burden the common people with more and more taxation and give relief to corporate and business houses. The entire burden of the capitalist crisis is squarely shifted on the toiling masses in various forms. France is no exception to this. This raising of the retirement age is one of such anti-worker measures. In India also, a fight is going on for revival of the old pension scheme, because people hardly get any tangible benefit in the New Pension Scheme (NPS) introduced by the BJP government in January 2004 with a view to corpus of divert pension fund to speculative capital market and thus expose the hard-earned money of the workers and employees to the vagaries of price fluctuation.
The working class and common people in general in France have shown tremendous courage and solidarity in conducting the prolonged militant strikes against the pension reform bill. Entire France is burning and paralyzed. In Belgium this week, workers from the main labour confederation blocked trucks bringing petrol from Total Energy to France, which the Belgian union denounced as strikebreaking. There were demonstrations of solidarity with the struggle in France in Italy, Argentina and Australia. PAME, an international organization, expressed its solidarity with the working class of France.
Despite widespread and massive protests throughout the country by the trade unions and citizens of France for the last three and half months, President Emmanuel Macron has signed a pension bill into law that will increase the retirement age by two years on 15 April after it was approved by France’s Constitutional Council on 14 April, which will take effect from 1 September 2023. ‘‘This is a totally shameful decision,’’ Sophie Binet, head of the CGT union, told France info radio. ‘‘He (Macron) has slammed the door in our face yet again.’’ It has infuriated the unions which had called for months of mass protests to continue.
We, on behalf of the struggling Indian working class, extend our whole-hearted support to our French brethren and hope that they succeed in forcing Macron’s Government to withdraw this anti-people pension reform bill. But at the same time, we reiterate that today, no movement can be steered to its logical culmination unless it is channelized in the right direction under genuine revolutionary leadership. This is true for France also. Earlier we have seen the most inspiring ‘Yellow Vest movement’ to peter out in course of time as its rudder was not in the hands of genuine revolutionaries i.e., true Marxists-Leninists. We hope the struggling French workers would take appropriate lessons from that and move now in the correct direction.
(Source:, La Voix du Nord,, 17-03-23, /2023/03/17,, BBC 11-01-23, 19-01-23, Reuters 07-02-23, Le Monde 07-02-23, The Wire 20-03-23, ABP 25-03-23, 20-03-23, The Guardian 21-03-23, Euro news 28-03-23, Focus economics 28-03-23, INSEE, France, Workers’ World 06-04-23, idcommunism-21-03-23, AFP 07-04-23, NDTV 15-04-23)

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