Since the start of the year, millions of protesters in France have been calling for the government to scrap its pension reforms. The headline change is to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. And it’s provoked some of the biggest street demonstrations in recent memory. The protesters argue that the government wants people to work more, but it’s not supporting older workers.
"This is not just about work; it’s about the conditions you work in. We have to act on this issue, and ensure people can have a good career, in good health. The reform is unjust," said Alexandre DuBois, with the French Democratic Confederation of Labor.
The unions argue the proposed reforms unfairly impact women and lower-paid workers at a time when many people are already feeling the pinch.
"In 10 years’ time, it could be 65 or 66 — when will it stop? Life expectancy is going up but only very slowly, and our purchasing power is falling, it’s going to be very difficult," said Fabrice, a firefighter.
The government says the changes are essential to make the country’s pension system financially sustainable in the future.
"There is a majority of lawmakers who do not want to fund our retirements with higher taxes, more charges, and lower pensions. They believe that people who started working early should be able to retire early as well," said Elisabeth Borne, French Prime Minister.
It’s not just the content of the policy that has angered the public, it’s how the reforms were passed. The government does not have a majority in the lower house, so it deployed a controversial, but constitutional tool to get the reforms through parliament. That meant it could bypass a vote by lawmakers. Forcing the legislation through meant the prime minister faced two no-confidence votes, but she survived.
The president has laid out his position. He is committed to the reforms. But the unions vow to continue with their strikes and protests to try to force the government to back down.
The demonstrations have been getting more violent. Protesters set the city hall in the southern city of Bordeaux ablaze and there have been increased clashes with law enforcement.
With more protests expected, and ministers refusing to budge, the endgame of this huge social movement and the government’s reforms remains uncertain.
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