(LifeSiteNews) – French president Emmanuel Macron’s plan to reform France’s pension system that would increase retirement age from 62 to 64 and at the same time augment the number of working years from 41 to 43 to obtain a full pension has sparked a series of strikes and demonstrations since January 19. To date, they were not successful in pressing the government to retract the bill that was forced through parliament without a vote. As was the case during the “gilet jaune” (“yellow vests”) uprising in 2018-2019, protests were targeted by violent police repression against ordinary citizens, while they were also used by extreme left-wing provocateurs adding fuel to the fire.
Fires have been a signature mark of the more recent of the ten days of nationwide demonstrations since January, with angry crowds in Paris, in particular, where a garbage collectors’ strike has led to piles of rubbish accumulating on sidewalks since the second week of March. With up to 10,000 tons of waste at a single time waiting to be removed in the arrondissements where town halls directly employ garbage collectors rather than outsourcing, there was plenty of ignitable matter on hand and the protesters avidly lit giant bonfires all over town.
The communist labor union CGT decided on Wednesday to “suspend” the strike but driving through some of the smarter neighborhoods in western Paris on Thursday evening, I still saw many streets with meters-high piles of overflowing trash bags.
Coupled with the violence on the streets and threats by laborers’ unions to stage demonstrations to “welcome” Charles III of England, who was scheduled to pay his first official visit to France earlier this week, the situation led Macron to call off the invitation for the King’s own safety – a major humiliation for France.
The garbage collectors’ strike is an obvious health hazard. In Paris, where an unprecedented number of rats are thriving under the mayorship of the socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo, and which is already defaced by a public works and traffic policy aimed at “greening” the city by force, the strike has only added to the general feeling that “the most beautiful capital in the world” is being defaced. Hidalgo herself refused to cooperate with the representatives of the state, the “Prefect” of Paris who insisted on using private companies and requisitioning striking garbage collectors to get rid of at least some of the waste.
As an aside, Anne Hidalgo is regularly praised by the World Economic Forum for her “green make-over” of Paris and her decision to turn it into a “15-minute city” where all amenities are within reach in a quarter hour’s walk or bike ride.
It may seem strange but this tuning down and control of human movement and, ultimately, freedoms, is closely linked to the pension reform Macron is championing. They are dictated by a similar logic that ultimately will result in impoverishing the middle classes and shrinking down their lives through top-down governance. Globalist institutions such as the European Union – which dictates up to 80 percent of France’s laws and fixes the amount of public debt EU members are allowed to have – are “recommending” pension reform in order to restore fiscal health in countries that are already overburdened with public spending and socialist-level compulsory contributions.
The present uprisings in France are mostly powered by left-wing groups and unions who have partially blocked trains, refineries, suburban public transport and even some nuclear power plants. This has not paralyzed the country – of which more later – but created daily nuisances.
On the streets, especially in Paris and with only minimal coverage by mainstream media, incidents where riot police and “Republican security units” (CRS) charge more or less violent crowds and spray them with tear gas, arrest people who just happen to be passing and beat up individual demonstrators are taking place daily. Multiple short videos made of the police violence against protesters and journalists are available here.
The heavy-handed approach adopted by the law enforcers is truly symbolic of the way the pension reform was conducted. Following the astronomic public spending during COVID lockdowns and blocks on normal economic activity (some 170 to 200 billion euro in direct spending and revenue losses), the government’s bid to reduce spending on retirement benefits by a few billion euro (13.5 billion in savings from now to 2030) seemed untimely to many.
Both the extreme left (Nupes, including the Marxist “la France Insoumise”) and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement national were totally opposed to the reform and due to hesitations on the part of the liberal right and other parties as well as some of Macron’s governing party legislators, there was no clear majority for the reform. Some amendments were accepted, however, in favor of workers with very long careers or arduous jobs.
Prime minister Elisabeth Borne fast-tracked the debates using every possible constitutional tool that allows the executive to impose its decisions on Parliament, culminating with the notorious “49.3” procedure, by the name of the article of the constitution that allows the government to “engage its responsibility” on a bill, meaning that the law is adopted without a vote, while the government commits to stepping down if there is no majority for a no-confidence vote asked for by at least 10 percent of the members of parliament.
The no-confidence votes that effectively took place mid-March, one initiated by a centrist party, failed to topple the government by nine votes, as a majority of center-right “les Républicains” refused to vote against Borne.
No-confidence votes virtually always fail in France, not least because the president could choose to call a general election if the executive is disavowed and a risk exists that current law-makers lose their seat. Macron had already threatened to do so weeks before the final move by Borne.
All this sparked deep anger among the opponents to pension reform, who were enraged by Macron’s frequent travels to other countries while the debate was ongoing and the “disdain” of the government for the people and for classic negotiation with labor unions in order to work out a solution. Macron added insult to injury when demonstrations followed and he said that “the crowd” has no “legitimacy” with regard to “the people that expresses itself through its elected representatives” – whose voice had been effectively silenced via the “49.3” procedure.
The next day, Macron gave a completely disconnected interview in which he insisted that the “democratic” reform would take place whatever happened, adding that “factionalists and factions cannot be accepted.” This led to widespread critique of the “darling” of the World Economic Forum, with even mainstream media questioning the timeliness of the reform and the sincerity of its promises.
Is it a necessary reform? Will it deliver or be the cause of added hardships for a population that is already overwhelmed by inflation, rising energy costs, increasing and crippling “green” regulations for housing and the many other threats to France’s identity?
The most important point in the debate, that of the growing weight of the population of elderly as life expectancy remains high and births continue to plummet, was next to absent from the political scene and from the measures the government wants to implement.
In France, pensions of current retirees are paid for by the compulsory contributions levied on all salaries, without any form of mandatory invested pension funds: a “pay-as-you-go” pension system where future rights are not related to the sums paid by each worker. What is looked at is the time during which the retiree has contributed to the system and then his or her pension is served out of the current contributions. As the active, working population shrinks, benefits must shrink more or less likewise. In order to perpetuate the system, the main focus should be preserving the demography. Helping families to prosper and have more children, in other words, is the number one action a government can take to safeguard a viable pension system.
This point of view was completely overlooked by childless Macron and his government, who focused instead on lengthier contribution years while organizing future pauperization of the lower and middle classes, a fact that was certainly widely perceived and explains how widespread opposition is.
The debate on pushing back the earliest retirement date from 62 to 64 years of age may seem surreal in a context where many countries already have opted for higher ages, 65 or even 67. But the real problem is that many employed people have started work later in life than before because of lengthy education years, and lost pension rights because of spells of unemployment. Today in France, only about a third of 61- to 64 year-olds are in paid employment, in particular because they are laid off by companies who are looking for younger and cheaper collaborators, and find it very difficult to get a new job at that age. Hope of completing 43 years of work, under the new scheme, is receding: this means that many will probably have to get by on lower pensions.
All of this obviously squares well with the more general aim to bring about greater equality among “rich” and “developing” nations, bringing down the general standard of living while allowing (or helping) the population to reduce.
Another point that has not been truly addressed is the difference between public and private sector pensions: in the private sector, full pensions are calculated to reach 50 percent of an average calculated over a worker’s 25 best years (with some perks attached to child-rearing), while in the public sector they reach 75 percent over the six best months. Some categories of professionals can retire much earlier that the present age of 62, such as Paris metro workers who leave employment at 55: this will only change for future hirings. The Parisian garbage collectors evoked earlier leave at 57, and are protesting because their retirement age will move up to 59 over the next few years.
Even though Macron has finally agreed to discuss the pension bill with trade unions next week, the reform will probably be pushed through insofar as it is aligned with other globalist policies against the West. Remarkably, France was never totally blocked by the protests and strikes as happened on previous occasions in the last decades when other reforms had to be pulled back because of opposition. The unions, while having relatively few members, still have enormous power to cause harm in essential sectors of daily life where they are able to impose hard strikes, such as transportation, postal delivery, docks, energy, and the like. This is power that they did not use to the full, so much so that strikes and mobilization are on a downward turn.
But as in many cases when deep-going “societal” themes are at stake, from abortion to pension rights (and COVID measures!) there is fundamental agreement among political movements from the “right” to the “left.” In the case of pension reform this has been particularly visible, with successive reforms being made alternatively by the “right” and the socialists while moving in the same direction.
The question is, though, how long the people will continue to endure the condescension of the powers that be.