| 13 July 2024, Saturday |

Pension reform defiance brings new blood to French trade unions

Unions in France may have failed to derail President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to increase the retirement age, but the months-long campaign has resulted in significant gains in new members.

Jeremy Bensa, a hydroelectric plant worker, joined the hardline CGT after he and coworkers in his unit at state power business EDF took turns refusing to work for 45 days in protest of Macron’s decision to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.

“Right now, I think it’s important that workers stand strong,” Bensa, 37, told Reuters.

The unions’ renewal raises questions over whether the balance of power within companies will shift back towards worker interests after Macron’s 2017 overhaul of labour rules left them weaker, labour relations experts say.

Any such shift will hinge on union leadership’s ability to respond to a new generation’s set of concerns.

Macron faced months of nationwide strikes and sometimes-violent protests against his pension plans, ultimately passing it last month by using constitutional powers to circumvent opposition in parliament.

CGT leadership member Thomas Vacheron said the union had seen more than 30,000 new workers join since January, the biggest increase since rolling strikes in 1995 forced a conservative government to scotch a pension and welfare reform.

Meanwhile, the moderate CFDT, which with more than 600,000 members vies with the CGT for the title of France’s biggest union, has seen 32,000 new joiners this year, up 40% from the same period last year, a CFDT official said.

Interest is growing among younger and private sector workers, where unions tend to be less well represented.

Vacheron said that more than 30% of the CGT’s recent joiners were under the age of 35 while 70% were coming from the private sector, which traditionally is dominated by the CFDT.

“Since the retirement reform is contested by the young and old, public and private sector workers, they see a utility in belonging to unions, unions are attractive,” Vacheron said.

  • Reuters