STUMP » Articles » French Pension Protests: They Will Continue Til... When? » 20 February 2020, 21:26

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French Pension Protests: They Will Continue Til... When?  


20 February 2020, 21:26

It is not clear to me that any of these organizations have a plan.

In the Socialist Worker: New action dates called for French pension war

Dated February 10, 2020, we get the following:

A group of strikers at the incinerators and waste disposal centres in the Paris region and Marseille have been “requisitioned”—ordered to return to work or face six months imprisonment and a big fine.

Their action had seen rubbish piling up in the streets.

A handful of workers have not returned but, lacking sufficient backing from the union leaders, most felt they had to give in.

One union rep said, “The life expectancy of a garbage collector is seven years lower than the national average. If the pension changes go through we will have no retirement, just work in horrible conditions and then die.”

This may or may not be true. If it’s true, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were connected to how much they smoke.

Thirteen hospital ­workers’ organisations have ­organised a day of strikes and demonstrations on Friday this week [February 14]. They want “real negotiations” over the crisis of ­funding and staffing in hospitals and social care establishments.

RATP workers and some sections of rail workers have called for a “Black Monday” on 17 February.

The CGT trade union federation called a day of action for Thursday this week. It said this will be part of preparing for a national day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday 20 February.

This has been backed by eight union federations and student organisations.
The danger is that the days of mobilisation become symbolic rather than being a genuine ­strategy to force the government into ­complete retreat.

So, my question is this:

Suppose the French legislature does pass the proposed changes, and that’s all there. What are you going to do then? Continue protests?

You have to actually threaten politicians with something really important to them: loss of their power. How are you going to do that?


So, that was from 10 days ago or so.

Let’s check in with the action in the French legislature.

French pension reform embarks on heated debate in parliament

French lawmakers on Monday [Feb. 17] started debating President Emmanuel Macron’s divisive plan to overhaul the pensions system, expected to be a several-month-long, fierce parliamentary debate.

The final vote, after the legislative process through the National Assembly and the Senate, is not expected before summer.

Oh great, the protests will continue over those several months.

Further protests have been called for Thursday [today, Feb 20], but, in a sign of the relative weakening of the unions, a call for a metro strike on Monday was largely ignored.

Ah, I guess those protest plans fell through.

New French Health Minister Olivier Veran told lawmakers at the National Assembly Monday “this bill has the legitimacy of a presidential project. It has the legitimacy of a consultation. … And I hope it will, in the near future, have a large legitimacy given by lawmakers.”

Opposition lawmakers are hoping to counter the government’s plans, proposing a record 41,000 amendments. But Macron’s party has a majority in parliament.

That sounds obnoxious.

Several hundred protesters marched in the Paris streets Monday [Feb. 17], heading toward the National Assembly amid a high police presence.

Amid them, David Lepennetier, a rail worker from the city of Rouen, in western France, denounced the bill’s goal as being “to impoverish all of us and push us — those who can — toward private pension funds. We saw after what happened in the United States in 2008 that pension funds can only impoverish the pensioners.”

Lawyer Cecile Hakim-Bonnerot, also protesting Monday, said “we, lawyers, we have to pay twice as much as we do now with this law but the minimum living wage once we are retired and if this law passes will be almost 500 euros less a month. You can’t pay more to have less.”

Sure you can! Ask the socialists about that!


“Either We Defend Social Solidarity, or French Society Will Break Down”

André Chassaigne is a Communist Party member of parliament representing the Puy-de-Dôme department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. In an interview in mid-January he sat down with “A Season in Hell” editor Ethan Earle. They discussed Macron’s proposed pension reform, the movements seeking to block it — and the possibilities of rapprochement on the French left.

On January 11, the prime minister [Édouard Philippe] announced that the part of the reform that dealt with the “qualifying age” (i.e. the minimum age at which a person becomes entitled to a full pension) would be “temporarily postponed.” At the same time, he said that the reform bill would be reviewed using an expedited procedure. What’s your take on that?


I think the method deserves special attention, as it constitutes an extremely serious form of denial of democracy. On the one hand, the prime minister promises that there will be a conference on pension funding and that the government will continue to negotiate with the trade unions — while also leaving very little room for negotiation.

And on the other hand, there’s the parliamentary review process, which is due to end before the negotiations even conclude because an expedited procedure is being used to rush the bill through the National Assembly and the Senate.

This is hardly the first time that this government has attempted to subvert democracy. The steps it has taken range from the use of ordinances — a technique allowing it to adopt laws directly, bypassing parliament — to a change to the National Assembly’s rules of procedure that leaves less scope for discussing the articles of laws and cuts the amount of speaking time in general. All of this makes parliamentary debate more difficult and weakens parliamentary democracy.

Nonetheless, we’ll very much be going on the offensive. That much is true of the group I head, especially the Communist members of parliament, of La France Insoumise’s group, and of the Socialist group, which has changed its stance on many proposals. The Socialists have turned their backs on points-based pensions, to name but one example.

What is your group planning to do in the National Assembly in the next few weeks?

Our political activity centers on acting as a mouthpiece of the social movement. In parliament, we pass on the social movement’s demands and tell the truth about the extent of the movement — it’s still very strong, although some people would have us believe otherwise. In everything we do, we fully respect the movement’s choices. It’s up to the trade unions and the workers to decide what struggles they undertake and how they undertake them.

So, my group is currently working on the text that we finally received. We’re starting out by analyzing it, and then we’ll work hard within parliament to extend debates and propose a raft of amendments, even if the new rules of procedure get in our way. We want to put the government on the spot regarding the general direction of its reform: a reform that sets up an individual system, calls solidarity-based distribution into question, and encourages people to take out private pensions. We’re going to table amendments aimed at removing certain articles from the government’s bill, along with proposals to show how France’s pension system could be improved. We’re already gearing up to fight our corner in parliament. It’s going to be a real battle of wills.

Indeed. And, again, if you lose with your dumbass “swamp them with amendments” strategy, and if the protests don’t do anything… what are you going to do then? Are you going to convince people to throw the bums out?

They may very well be able to do that, but so far, I’m not seeing things doing much.

The next bit I will quote without commentary:

It’s often said that France’s social welfare system is something of an outlier in the world. Is pension reform only really a concern for France?

Pension reform is also a European strategy that goes hand in hand with austerity policies and the erosion of social rights. Wherever a government curtails social welfare provision, it sets a precedent that paves the way for more social welfare cuts in other European countries. It’s not just a concern in France. And I would add that the triumph of unchecked liberalism in Europe has made it all the easier for far-right populists to gain ground. Far-right populism is on the rise throughout Europe, fueled by social welfare cutbacks. So, in this respect, we have a responsibility.

The cause-effect in the above I leave as an exercise for the reader.

Let’s go back to the issue of the social struggle in these times of reform with this last, very simple question: Do you really think that you can come out on top?

Yes, I do. I believe that the movement can go the distance. It’s becoming more diverse, and more and more sectors are starting to take action like the ports and the aviation industry. I think that the struggle is going to evolve, that it’s going to take on different forms. We have to understand what the people who are on strike right now are going through. There are families and workers who will experience social hardship because of what they’re doing. There are people who will have trouble repaying their loans. If we want them to emerge victorious, then we need to show our solidarity with them. The movement needs to stand firm.

And I think that if the movement stands firm, the government will have to make concessions, even if it doesn’t back down completely and even if it simply tries to “dress up” its position to make it more palatable. But I think we can get it to back down on a lot of points. I’m very hopeful about our prospects of defeating the reform in parliament, but I think that the main driver of victory will be the workers and the people out demonstrating on the street. It’s by getting more people to stand up and fight that we’ll force the government to cave in.

Yeaaaaah, we’ll see how successful this is.

It did work the prior times [with respect to pension cuts]… but he seems not to have noticed that it didn’t work for the yellow vests.


So, the problem with those of us in the English-speaking sphere, especially now that the UK got its Brexit and really don’t have to deal with the French unless they want to, is that it is tough to get at news on the situation.

I have only found this item in English language news from the BBC: French reforms: Why France is resisting Macron’s push on pensions

The rolling transport strikes that crippled Paris through much of December and January have stopped, as empty pay packets post-Christmas took their toll. Instead there has been a change of tactic, with the more radical unions now planning sporadic days of action.

How is that supposed to be more effective?

The initial [pension reform] proposal, as sold to the public, was to create a fairer system by making everyone put into – and get out of – the same pension pot under the same rules. It was a “systemic” reform, to use the parlance.

But somewhere en route it also became a “parametric” reform. In other words the government decided that now was also the moment to shuffle the numbers around in order to ensure the system’s long-term financial survival.

Somewhere in the change, the government decided it had to be written in that people were going to have to work for longer, retiring later in life.

The number of French people who actually understand the pensions reform can probably be counted in fingers and toes.

What on earth, for example, is the difference between an age de pivot (age of pivot) and an age d’équilibre (age of balance)?

Oh, jeeeez. That sounds like minimum retirement age (such as 62 with Social Security) and the “full” retirement age (which is 67 years old for Gen X, and 66 for much of the Baby Boom).

To be fair, many people in the U.S. don’t understand the distinction, given how many people take Social Security benefits at age 62, when they first become eligible, and don’t know about all the penalties for doing so.

What happens now?

The National Assembly will now prepare to take up the baton on this mother of all reforms.

There are technically two laws going before parliament.

One is an ordinary law, and one is an “organic” law. The far-left opposition have tabled 20,000 amendments in committee; the State Council has ruled that in several aspects the government’s intention to resort to decrees to implement the reform needs clarification.

Is it any wonder that the pension reforms have triggered the longest opposition movement since President Macron came to power?

The key point is not that people necessarily dislike the idea of a universal points-based system.

After all, as the president says, its much-vaunted prime characteristic – and what distinguishes it from the dreaded Anglo-Saxon systems – remains intact.

It is and will be a single “share-out” system in which workers pay in and pensioners take out. There are no scary pension funds.

You mean like Social Security in the U.S.? Do they even know how our retirement system works?

[Yes, I know they mean this is their only pension, as far as I can tell, while in the U.S., we’re expected to have retirement savings other than just Social Security. OOOOOO SCARY]

No, the key point about the reform is that most people simply find it impossible to make head or tail of.

Hell, I don’t know how their system “works” now. Evidently there are special carve-outs all over the place.

I think the main issue for most of them is that it is becoming extremely clear that the bit mentioned earlier: that they need to pay more for current retirees, work longer to pay more for current/past retirees, and then expect less retirement payouts for themselves. Just like everywhere else in the world, because people are living longer.

It’s not all that complicated in its drivers.

Because this:

Does not bode well for the sustainability of French pensions.

Maybe they don’t want to switch to having pension funds they own themselves. Ownership is so scary, I know.

But maybe they have to be like the U.S. with relatively low Social Security payments. Get used to less.

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