By Ali Rıza Taşdelen
This week France will be marked by strikes and demonstrations. On January 17th there were strikes by Teachers and National Education workers, on January 18th by railway workers, on January 19th by all sectors with the call of 8 unions and on January 21st there will be a big march in Paris with the call of the party France Unbowed (La France Insoumise). And the Yellow Vests, who have restarted their mobilizations, will participate in these demonstrations organized by the trade unions and they will demonstrate all over France by organizing on social media.
All these strikes and demonstrations are primarily against the Macron government’s raising of the early retirement age from 62 to 65 (the normal retirement age is 67), the decline in purchasing power and the cost of living.
In the fall of 2022, there were widespread strikes and demonstrations by police, health workers, teachers, railway workers and oil refinery workers.
Strikes and demonstrations broke out in January when Macron reintroduced the pension reform. The retreat that the Covid-19 pandemic caused among the masses is now over. There is great determination among workers and trade unions.
Retirement: Europe’s burning issue
The biggest victims of the bankrupt capitalist system are the unemployed, low-income workers and especially retirees. Retirees and those close to retirement, who have spent 40-45 years of their lives working and whose share of the pension premium has been automatically deducted from their salary, look at their future with worry.
Unable to recover from the 2008 financial crisis, Europe’s economies were hit hard by the 2020-2021 Covid-19 pandemic. In 2022, the energy crisis that emerged as a result of the sanctions European countries imposed on Russia, tagging behind the US, devastated their economies.
Europe, which has become an aging society with falling birth and death rates, is now having difficulty paying the pensions of its retirees. For example France has 29 million employees and 17 million retirees. The premiums paid by employees cannot meet the pensions of retirees. The pension budget is in constant deficit and growing every year. Moreover France is in debt in general. Social insurances and unemployment insurance are suffering from deficits on the verge of bankruptcy. In 2030, the number of pensioners is projected to increase by 3 million to 20 million, while the number of working people by only 1 million to 30 million.
The current system finds the solution in increasing working time and brings up a new “reform” on top of the old one. While pension contributions are deducted from workers, the amount the bosses keep free from corporate tax and social contributions is millions of euros. The system wants to put the burden of the crisis on the workers. Whereas the bosses’ share of social contributions is constantly falling, workers’ is increasing.
France lived a “period of prosperity” between 1945 and 1975, which ended with the oil crisis. The US-fueled globalization and neoliberalism attack in the 80s affected mostly the working class. This assault on social and economic rights above all damaged the retirement system.
Retirement in the grave
For 30 years, France has been seeking a reform that lengthens working time in order to cover the budget deficit in its pension institutions. In 1995, the “Social Security Reform” package of the Alain Juppé government attempted to eliminate 150 years of gains of the working class. For six weeks in November-December that year, millions of workers took to the streets and went on strikes and gave the government a scare. The package was withdrawn. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded in 2010 where Juppé failed. He passed a law raising the early retirement age from 60 to 62 and the full retirement age from 65 to 67. For two months, millions of workers shook France with strikes and demonstrations, but they could not block Sarkozy’s reform. This reform has not sufficed: François Hollande wanted to carry on with new reforms. He had some successes in eliminating workers’ rights, but not in retiree’s.
Emmanuel Macron, elected President in 2017, introduced a new “retirement reform”. He wanted to raise the early retirement age to 65 and the full retirement age to 67. But the resistance of the Yellow Vests stopped him. Yet, he did not give up and when he was reelected in 2022, he brought the reform back to the public debate.
Macron does not hold a parliamentary majority to pass the reform. The opposition in the parliament and the labor unions on the streets are resisting. Macron’s minority government can only pass the reform if it receives the support of Sarkozy’s party, the Republicans. If not, Macron is planning to pass the reform without submitting it to parliament, based on Article 49-3 of the constitution, which authorizes the government to do so. The opposition can only prevent this by bringing down the government through a vote of no confidence. Macron has threatened to dissolve parliament in such a scenario.
Comparing the situation before the pandemic and the energy crisis with today, the situation of workers and pensioners is much worse. We can easily predict that there will be a stronger and more organized uprising than the Yellow Vests movement in the coming period. The fact that the sanctions against Russia, the support for Ukraine and NATO is blamed for the devastation caused by the energy crisis indicates that these demonstrations will further politicize.