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Why Did a Million People Join Day of Protests & Strikes in France?

© AFP 2023 / OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLEA protestor holds a placard which reads as 'retirement before arthritis' during a rally in Lyon, on January 19, 2023.
A protestor holds a placard which reads as 'retirement before arthritis' during a rally in Lyon, on January 19, 2023.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.01.2023
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Over 200 demonstrations swept France on January 19 amid a nationwide strike against pension reform called at the initiative of eight leading French trade unions. Some protests in Paris turned violent, with stones, bottles, flares, and firecrackers lobbed at the police, who retaliated with tear gas and used force to push back crowds.
A single day - January 19 - witnessed over a million protesting people take to the streets of cities across France, while trains ground to a standstill, plane flights were impacted, and Paris' subway was disrupted as part of a nationwide strike. For the first time in over a decade, France's "Day of Rage" reconciled and brought together practically all of the country's leading labor organizations. Furthermore, French unions have announced new nationwide strikes and protests for January 31.

So what is it that prompted people in Paris, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, and other major cities to pick up placards and flood the streets of their hometowns?
Protesters march in Saint-Denis de la Reunion, France - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.01.2023
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Day of Rage: Nationwide Protests Against Pension Reform Engulf France

Why Are People Protesting in France?

It is President Emmanuel Macron's plan to carry out a pension reform that has got protesters across France up in arms. Contentiously lying at the heart of the legislation is the proposal to raise the retirement age, as well as make people contribute more years of employment in order to receive a full pension.
"Macron wants us to die on the job. We get up very early. Some colleagues wake up at 3 am. Working until 64 is too much," one protester told reporters.
"The way things are going, we'll be almost unable to walk or live by the time we're given the right to retire," insisted another indignant participant in the mass action.
According to General Confederation of Labor (French: Confédération Générale du Travail, CGT) trade union leader Philippe Martinez, the pension reform "bundles together everyone's dissatisfaction" with the government. "We all agree that the reform is unjust," he added.

When Do French People Retire?

French people retire earlier than in many neighboring countries. For example, according to the Pensions Advisory Council, the average age in France to begin using retirement funds was 62.6 for women and 62 for men in 2019. By comparison, in Italy, the average age for the sexes was 63 and 64, and in Germany it was 66.
© AP Photo / Lewis JolyA protestor uses flares during a demonstration against pension changes, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 in Paris.
A protestor uses flares during a demonstration against pension changes, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 in Paris. - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.01.2023
A protestor uses flares during a demonstration against pension changes, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 in Paris.

What is Macron's Pension Reform About?

As far back as during his 2017 presidential campaign, Emmanuel Macron called for reforms to France's pensions' system. Macron's government has underscored the need to "bring into alignment" the existing multiple private sector and public sector pension schemes. Gradually raising the minimum retirement age was at the heart of the proposed overhaul. However, the plans were put on the backburner after they triggered waves of protests in 2020. Macron cited the COVID-19 pandemic at the time, saying such reforms would be ill-timed.
Accordingly, now the plan has been returned to with fresh zeal. The idea is to raise the retirement age from 62 to as late as 65. Furthermore, the number of years you need to work to have a full pension would be progressively increased, and faster than before: 43 years instead of 41.5 by 2027 instead of 2034.
"Starting from September 1, 2023, the official retirement age will be gradually increased by 3 months per year to reach 64 years by 2030. At the end of the five-year presidential term [of President Emmanuel Macron] it will be 63 years and 3 months," French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said when presenting the draft pension reform earlier in January.

What Else is in Macron's Pension Reform?

The government revealed that it will index about two million pension benefits, allowing them to reach 85 percent of the subsistence level and amount to 1,200 euros ($1,288) per month for those who have completed the minimum working experience of 43 years required. The reform provided for an earlier retirement for those who started working at an early age, with the bill assuming that maternity leave for women will also be included in the calculation of working years.
© AP Photo / Jean-Francois BadiasProtestors march with walkers as they demonstrate against proposed pension changes,Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 in Strasbourg, eastern France.
Protestors march with walkers as they demonstrate against proposed pension changes,Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 in Strasbourg, eastern France.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.01.2023
Protestors march with walkers as they demonstrate against proposed pension changes,Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 in Strasbourg, eastern France.

How Does French Gov't Justify Need for Pension Reform?

Emmanuel Macron has insisted that the pension reform is vital if there is to be any hope of salvaging a "failing system"

"If we don't enact these reforms, the current system is in danger," Macron warned in December, adding that the new plans would ensure that France’s pension system remains financially viable for "decades to come."

The president previously ruled out either slashing pension payments or allocating additional funds to the system. The French prime minister also stressed the need to "maintain a balance" between the ratio of working citizens and growing number of pensioners in the country. According to media-cited data, from four workers per one retiree about 50 years ago, there is now approximately 1.7 per retiree today, with the trend anticipated to continue.
French flag - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.01.2023
World
France Plans to Raise Retirement Age to 64 Years by 2030, Prime Minister Says

Has Pension Reform Been Attempted in France Before?

France boasts a decades-long history of stabs at reforming its pension system. As one can guess, it has witnessed just as many protests resisting such intentions.
As far back as in 1982, President Francois Mitterrand brought down the retirement age to 60 from 65. However, over a decade later, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Alain Juppe sought to increase the retirement age for civil servants and make 40 years of work contribution a requirement for a pension in the private sector. This triggered immediate response from trade unions, which summoned a general strike that brought train and metro operations to a standstill for three weeks. As a result, the plans were ditched by the government.
Nicolas Sarkozy elevated the retirement age to 62 from 60 in 2010, with full pension only for those who had worked at least 41.5 years. Despite massive protests, the reform was enacted.
Francois Hollande waded into the pension fray four years later, gradually increasing the number of years of contributions required for a full pension to 43.
© AP Photo / Lewis JolyRiot police officers grab a protestor during a demonstration against pension changes, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.
Riot police officers grab a protestor during a demonstration against pension changes, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.01.2023
Riot police officers grab a protestor during a demonstration against pension changes, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.

What Happens Next?

The proposed pension reform is yet to be adopted in parliament, where President Emmanuel Macron does not have an absolute majority. The French president has insisted he will press ahead with the plans. During a news conference at a French-Spanish summit in Barcelona, Spain, Macron said that "we must do that reform" to "save" the pension system.
"We will do it with respect, in a spirit of dialogue but also determination and responsibility,” he added.
© AFP 2023 / ALAIN JOCARDDemonstrators gather at Place de la Republique during a rally called by French trade unions in Paris on January 19, 2023.
Demonstrators gather at Place de la Republique during a rally called by French trade unions in Paris on January 19, 2023.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 21.01.2023
Demonstrators gather at Place de la Republique during a rally called by French trade unions in Paris on January 19, 2023.

What do French Trade Unions Say?

Trade unions have argued that the proposed pension overhaul will jeopardize hard-fought workers' rights. What the unions propose instead is either slapping a tax on the wealthier citizens, or increasing payroll contributions from employers to finance the pension system.
A majority of the French people also opposes the reform, recent polls have shown. 66 percent oppose raising the retirement age, while 60 percent oppose increasing the length of contribution required for a full pension, according to a survey by OpinionWay.
Amid what appears to be a stalemate on the issue, eight leading unions held a meeting on January 19 in the wake of the mass protests. In their statements, they vowed to push on with attempts to force the government to scrap the pension reform plans.
Another day of mass strikes and protests has been planned for January 31, according to France's trade unions.
Протестующий держит плакат во время митинга, созванного французскими профсоюзами в Нанте, Франция - Sputnik International, 1920, 20.01.2023
World
More Than 1 Million People Gathered to Protest Against Pension Reform in France
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