SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 29 May 2024, Wednesday |

Protests across France to test government resolve over pension reform

Hundreds of thousands of people marched across France on Saturday to put pressure on the government over its pension reform plans, which include raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

After three days of nationwide strikes since the beginning of the year, unions are hoping to match the massive turnout on Jan. 19, when more than a million people marched in protest of the plans.

“If they’re not able to listen to what’s happening on the streets, and are not able to realise what is happening with the people, well they shouldn’t be surprised that it blows up at some point,” Delphine Maisonneuve, a 43-year-old nurse told Reuters as a protest in Paris kicked off.

The French spend the largest number of years in retirement among OECD countries – a benefit which, opinion polls show, a substantial majority of people are reluctant to give up.

President Emmanuel Macron says the reform is “vital” to ensuring the viability of the pension system.

Early estimates showed that numbers had increased in Paris by about 20% from the last protest on Tuesday, newspaper Le Figaro reported.

Unions were hoping for a huge turnout for the first weekend protests since the movement began and to draw people from all ages and backgrounds to show the government that the anger against the reform runs deep.

SHUTTING DOWN FRANCE

In a joint statement ahead of Saturday’s marches all the main unions called for the government to withdraw the bill.

They warned that they would seek to bring France to a standstill from March 7 if their demands were not met. A strike is already scheduled for Feb. 16.

“If the government continues to remain deaf then the inter-union grouping will call for France to be shut down,” they said ahead of Saturday’s marches.

The protests are the first on a weekend, when workers do not need to strike or take time off.

They follow the first week of debate on the pension legislation in parliament.

The opposition has suggested thousands of amendments to complicate the debate and ultimately try to force the government to pass the bill without a parliamentary vote and through decree, a move that could potentially sour the rest of Macron’s mandate.

He was re-elected in April 2022 for five years.

Raising the retirement age by two years and extending the pay-in period would yield an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.18 billion) in annual pension contributions, allowing the system to break even by 2027, according to Labour Ministry estimates.

Unions say there are other ways to do this, such as taxing the super rich or asking employers or well-off pensioners to contribute more.

“Even though at my age, I’m not really affected (by the pension reforms), it’s important to be vigilant about our society, that there is solidarity, that it’s one where people are very close to one another, and to be vigilant about caring not only for our elderly but also for our children,” said Kamel Amriou, 65, a retired graphic artist.

    Source:
  • Reuters