Workers shut down France over Macron pensions and retirement attacks
A man stands on a traffic light during a demonstration in Paris, Dec. 5. The Eiffel Tower was shut down, France's vaunted high-speed trains stood still, and thousands of protesters marched through Paris as unions launched open-ended, nationwide strikes over the government's plan to overhaul the retirement system. | Thibault Camus / AP

France was shut down by strikes across the public and private sectors yesterday as workers took action against President Emmanuel Macron’s attacks on pensions and the retirement age. The Eiffel Tower was closed, trains did not run, and aircraft were grounded as rallies took place in all the country’s major cities.

Pigeons on a platform at the Gare de Lyon train station Dec. 6 in Paris. Transportation is shut down around France for a second day as unions dig in for what they hope is a protracted strike against government plans to redesign the national retirement system. | Rafael Yaghobzadeh / AP

Schools and businesses did not function and the presidential palace was barricaded shut, with an extra 6,000 police deployed to the streets of Paris and 65 people arrested before the main Paris demonstration even began. Marchers wore yellow vests in solidarity with the huge gilets jaunes movement against neoliberalism or red ones symbolizing their trade union membership.

Health workers, students, and environmental campaigners joined demonstrations to decry the “social crisis” provoked by Macron’s neoliberal regime, which has attacked workers’ rights and launched a wave of privatizations.

The immediate cause of the uprising is the anticipated announcement next week of the details of Macron’s plan to overhaul the nation’s pension and retirement age. France has a national retirement age of 62, but workers in more arduous jobs can often retire earlier. There are also some 42 different pension systems covering workers in different sectors and jobs.

Macron says he wants a single retirement age and a single pension benefits system in the interests of fairness and simplicity. French workers see it as little more than a scheme to get people to work longer for less. Negotiations between the Macron government and unions have been ongoing for months, with little headway made.

Unions backing the actions which started yesterday include the massive CGT federation, Force Ouvriere, Solidaires, the civil servants’ union, the FSU, and many more. Unions say the action is open-ended, characterizing it as an “unlimited strike,” and they hope to force government concessions within a week. The Paris Metro strike will last at least until Monday, organizers said.

It is a movement that is uniting workers of all ages, including those who are still years away from retiring and collecting pensions. Vincent Le Faucheur, a 23-year-old train driver in Paris, told Associated Press, “The older ones have fought for us. It’s normal we fight for ourselves and for the future generations.” He continued, saying, “Yes, it will be difficult, but if we need to do it, we will.”

Members of the French Communist Party participate in a demonstration against Macron’s plan.

The movement has also received backing from most political parties, including the Socialists, Communists, and Jean-Luc Melenchon’s France Insoumise (France Unbowed) on the left and Marine Le Pen’s fascist National Rally on the far right.

The conservative Republicans said they did not approve of the action, but were also opposed to Macron’s pension raid.

A guide to the action by France Insoumise said Macron was determined to lower the value of pensions and make men and women work longer. “Why work longer when by retirement age one in two people is no longer employed anyway and an employee produces on average three times more than in 1970?” it asked. “Progress is not about working more and more.”

France Insoumise’s Adrien Quatennens said that “under the alibi of universality, the government is picking everyone’s pockets.” Party leader Melenchon, who marched with strikers in Marseille, has warned that the government’s bid to standardize pension arrangements undermines collective bargaining agreements and pays no attention to specific circumstances in different lines of work.

French Communist Party leader Fabien Roussel said the plans “attack the principle of solidarity that is the basis of French social protection.” He said Macron’s plan aims to make changes to pension calculations that “individualize” pension pots—removing the notion of collectivity that has been at the heart of previous battles which won pension protections. Roussel also noted that even Macron himself says the retirement and pension changes will “encourage some people to work longer.”

Security guard Joseph Kakou had to walk an hour to get home because of the lack of transport, but he told reporters: “It doesn’t please us to walk. It doesn’t please us to strike. But we have to. We can’t work until we are 90 years old.”

This article, originally published by Morning Star, has been supplemented with material from Associated Press and People’s World staff.