France: Millions of workers strike & protest against attack on pensions

By Arno, a member of Left Socialist Party, our sister organisation in Belgium

As announced during the presidential campaign, the Macron government has launched its pension reform. To quote the programme, “raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, and a number of years of service from 41 to 43”. More than 70% of the population is opposed to this reform which aims to make everyone work longer.

We now know the catchphrase, “we live longer, so we will have to work longer”. It does not matter if, at 64, 29% of the poorest 5% of workers are already dead and will therefore never benefit from the pension system to which they have contributed all their lives. It is also not envisaged to refinance this system with more public money, which is lacking. Indeed, taxes on corporate profits fell from 33.3% in 2017 to 25% in 2022, i.e. a drop of one-third to one-quarter during Emmanuel Macron’s first five-year term.

The government is trying to pass the pill of pension reform with supposedly progressive measures, such as raising the minimum pension from €900 euros to €1,200 euros. Mediapart has calculated that only 48 people could today meet the conditions imposed to be entitled to it!

This reform comes at a time when the situation is already particularly inflammable, with soaring prices hitting French workers, who do not benefit from wage indexation, except for the minimum wage. But the money is there! On the one hand, the companies of the CAC 40, (top companies on the French stock market), paid their shareholders €80.1 billion in 2022, a record! Then, the 42 French billionaires share a wealth of €544 billion (approx. 25% more that the GDP of Ireland). Another record. Finally, the largest item of expenditure by the French State is public aid for businesses: €157 billion per year.

The best defence is attack

The 8 main trade union organisations in the country (CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, Unsa, FSU and Solidaires) united in a common front, which had not happened in France since 2010 (when the retirement age was raised from 60 to 62 under Sarkozy). At the end of 2019 / beginning of 2020, another attack on pensions had given rise to a titanic struggle, but the lack of a bold action plan towards a general strike that could be extended had caused the movement to lose momentum. As a CGT trade union activist recently pointed out in the pages of Libération: “without the covid lockdown, in 2019, it would not have worked”.

We must go beyond the simple series of vaguely linked dates of strike and mobilisation days if we want to prevent the movement from ending up losing steam without victory, which is what the government is counting on. It is urgent to organise assemblies of struggle in the workplaces open to all colleagues, union members or not, and to organise similar committees in secondary schools, universities and neighbourhoods to build the general strike. This is how we can postpone all pension reform, but also bring down the Borne government and the entire austerity policy.

Grassroots organisation is key to preventing the struggle from being betrayed from the top (notably by the CFDT leadership). The SNCF inspectors’ strike during the Christmas holidays took a step in this direction, by organising from a Facebook page “collective national ASCT” (Agents, commercial service, trains) to take action and impose to the union leaders the plans for the strikes. Similarly, during the refinery strike (in September and October 2022),

Total workers once again carried out an ongoing strike, the renewal of which was ensured by a democratic vote. It is with this kind of method that we ensure the involvement of all the workers and therefore the success of the struggle. The weakness of this movement had then been its isolation, which had enabled the authorities to impose the requisition of personnel. This only underlines the need to build a broad movement based on the maximum involvement of the entire working class.

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