More than 3.5 million took to the streets throughout France on Tuesday protesting moves to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. The protests included strikes by rail workers, bus drivers, teachers, other public workers, longshore workers and oil workers who shut down 11 of France’s 12 refineries.

The actions shut down many rail and mass transportation lines. Flights were also cancelled or delayed at many French airports causing travel delays throughout Europe. The action by longshore and oil workers raised concerns about gasoline shortages.

This was the largest protest action in France since 1995 when a month of strikes and protest forced the right-wing government of Alain Juppé to abandon similar pension reforms.

This was also the largest action so far in a month of actions against president Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposed pension reform. There have been 4 nationwide demonstrations in the last 5 weeks. Each bigger than the previous. The pension plan working its way through the French parliament, would also raise the minimum age to receive a full state pension from 65 to 67.

According to left and labor sources in France what distinguished Tuesday’s actions was the growing breadth of those joining the protest. Polls show that 70% oppose the proposed pension law and support the protests. Tuesdays actions not only saw increased union and worker participation, but it also saw mass mobilizations of women and youth. This included high school students from over 300 schools.

The Sarkozy government shows no sign of backing off. In public statements following Tuesday’s actions Sarkozy and several government ministers vowed to press on with the pension legislation. It is clear from French labor and left sources that the movement to stop these attacks on retirees will continue and “radicalize” as some put it.

Railway and transport workers voted to continue their strikes on Wednesday while several other unions, in key sectors of the economy decided to continue strike action indefinitely. They plan to have a day by day vote of the members. Others are organizing rolling strikes. Another major action is planned for October 16th.

Many governments in the developed capitalist countries, including the US, are thinking about and proposing similar attacks on pensions (in the U.S. Social Security). Raising age requirements and cutting benefits are favorite themes of the right for shifting the economic crisis onto the backs of older workers. European and even US lawmakers are watching these developments in France. The actions of the French unions and workers will not be lost on workers facing similar attacks in their own countries.



Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall

Scott has been a life long trade unionist and was active in rank and file reform movements in the Teamsters, Machinists and Steelworkers unions in the 1970s and '80s. He was co-chair of the Save Our Jobs committee of USWA local 1834 at Pullman Standard in Chicago and active in nationwide organizing against plant shutdowns and layoffs. He was a founder of the unemployed organization Jobs or Income Now (Join), in Chicago, and the National Congress of Unemployed Organizations in the 1980s. Scott remains active in SOAR (Steelworkers Active Organized Retirees). He lives in Chicago.