The social movement against the pension changes in France

by Marie Dupont

Protest 11

Photo marcovdz

Six months ago it would have been impossible to imagine such a huge mobilisation in France against the raising of the legal retirement age from 60 to 62. When the National Committee for the Demands of Retired Workers decided to launch a campaign against the new law it had to confront a big media offensive launched by the government explaining that because the population is living older, it is no longer possible to pay for their pensions.

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But the National Committee soon united all forces the opposing to the bill, including the unions and left political parties, and started its campaign of explanation. Regional committees were set up which organised many local meetings all over France. Days of action were called by the trade unions with demonstrations growing each time. The number participating increased from one million, to two million and the last demonstrations reached three million throughout France.

Six months of national debate have made the stakes very clear. Without entering into all the technicalities, the bill appears to the population as a very unfair one. Firstly it will decrease pensions for the majority of people. Secondly, women will be especially victimised because it is necessary to have worked a minimum 41.5 years in order to get a full pension. Thirdly, those workers who started to work before they were 20 won’t have the right to retire at 60 although they already have the number of necessary years. Young people who start working very late, or who could nowadays be jobless for years, will never get the number of necessary years in order to receive a full pension.

As a result, opinion polls now show that 70% of the population oppose the bill. The tide of discontent has been growing constantly – contrary to the government predictions which had expected that the passing of the bill in the National Assembly on 15 September would demobilise people.

This bill now has to go through the Senate in October to be finally voted on by the end of the month. A new national strike is planned on 12 October and a test of forces is expected with the government as Sarkozy, after its late defeat at the regional elections and despite his low 26% in the polls, remains adamant that he will not give up the pension changes.

The most impressive point is the strength of the mobilisation. The summer holidays did not stop discontent growing. A huge demonstration took place on 24 June, one week before the school summer holidays and another one, a week after the holidays on 7 September. A factor explaining the success of these mobilisations is the insistence on unity by all organisations – this has usually been a weak point in the workers’ movement in France. Not only is there complete unity of action but the struggle has reached even very small towns, in which sometimes more than 10% of the population demonstrated.

The government tried hard to divert attention from the pensions changes, and split up the movement during the summer by whipping up racist ideology and measures against the Romas and the migrant population – it has introduced a bill on this. But this tactic has not yet proved to be successful.

In its own way, the French working class has started resistance against the capitalist decision to make the population pay for the crisis. There is not yet a clear overall consciousness about the situation, but it could become more obvious as attacks on the working class are accumulating while financial and corruption scandals regarding the rich are also accumulating.