Emmanuel Macron and the French government are facing the biggest strikes in the history of France. The triggers were drastic pension cuts and the plan to bring pensions onto the financial market. Now, the Prime Minister has made a media-effective compromise: At one point, it wants to give in and not raise the retirement age. That is not sufficient for the strikers.
In terms of marketing, the French government has had difficult times recently. How do you explain the fact that in your own country, everything has been at a standstill for more than a month – from electricity supply and refineries to law firms, hospitals, schools and transport companies? And what do you say if, on top of that, a healthy majority of people in France also approve of such a long-term strike?
MACRON WANTED TO INCREASE RETIREMENT AGE – THAT HAS BEEN CANCELLED
Since the beginning of December, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets of France to strike against Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension cuts. The most debated issue was that the retirement age should be raised from 62 to 64. The neighbouring countries were shaking their heads in amazement – because their retirement age has been much higher for a long time.
And this is where Prime Minister Édouard Philippe’s new initiative comes in: In a letter on Saturday, he declared he was “ready to withdraw the measure of the new retirement age.” If need be. And above all, “temporarily.” Which is to say, we can come back to it later. His French phrase “disposé à” also leaves it semantically open whether a real decision will follow from the willingness for this provisional arrangement.
MACRON’S PENSION PACKAGE: CUTS IN WOMEN’S PENSIONS AND PENSIONS AS AN OBJECT OF SPECULATION
Nevertheless, this is a partial success for the unions and strikers, some of whom have completely renounced their salaries since early December in order to prevent the reform. But the reform cannot be reduced to the increased retirement age. Much more is at stake: The Macron government wants to introduce a points system in which women and low income earners fear great disadvantages. Although there will be more pensioners in the coming decades, the budget for pensions is to remain the same – per capita cuts will therefore be made.
And: Pension contributions are to be invested on the capital market and would thus become an object of speculation on the financial markets. Since the beginning of December, unions and professional associations have therefore been calling for the pension reform to be withdrawn – as a complete package.
Philippe insists on bringing the controversial reform into parliament as early as mid-February. The influential trade union CGT and others are demanding a complete withdrawal of the reform plans.
STRIKES WILL CONTINUE UNTIL THE PACKAGE IS OFF THE TABLE
Prime Minister Philippe’s letter was therefore aimed precisely at those protesters who are only opposed to raising the retirement age, but not the whole package: Unions such as the CFDT which met the Prime Minister the day before to negotiate together with employers’ organisations. The main issue was how the current reform should be financed, but not the content of the reform.
Trade unions like the CGT therefore rejected these negotiations from the outset. The union alliance Intersyndicale has already called for renewed mass strikes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The fight over pension reform is increasingly becoming the scene of a relentless testing of strengths: On the one hand, there are strikers and trade unions who only want to resume work once the pension reform is off the table. This is draining their strength and means a great financial burden for many. On the other hand, there is the Macron government which declared the reform package non-negotiable from the outset and is now facing the longest strike in France’s history.
CITY HALL, POLICE VIOLENCE CONTINUES
The mood is getting more and more heated. CGT trade unionists stormed Blackrock’s Parisian building last week with pyrotechnics and loud protest chants: The company is said to have directly influenced the content of the pension reform. In Le Havre, demonstrators entered the city hall on Friday and helped themselves to canapés and champagne, which was actually intended for official guests of the mayor.
On the other hand, the unspeakable police violence is increasing. Pictures go viral on the internet: the police beat up demonstrators and shoot at a man with rubber bullets at close range; police forces throw a stun grenade into the window of a filming viewer; once again a journalist is taken into custody after police forces have strangled, beaten and insulted him beforehand.
Prime Minister Édouard Philippe’s supposed willingness to compromise has probably had some impact in terms of PR: The government has shown itself to be conciliatory and negotiation-friendly in the media, while the protesters want to portray Philippe as stubborn. In this way, the government wants to calm the situation without abandoning the essential parts of its reform. However, the situation in France does not appear to have calmed down at present.