France paralysed by biggest strike in years

By Jim Hayes

France is experiencing the biggest strike in years. Public sector workers from transport to teachers, were joined by lawyers. Firefighters have joined. Even some of the police are taking part.

Most trains have been cancelled. So have hundreds of flights.

All want to stop president Emmanuel Macron dismantling the nation’s pension system.

Macron’s justification is that the present system of many schemes, both public and private are unwieldy and a single system would be much more efficient. But this reasoning hides that the real aim is to cut the pension and raise the retirement age. It now stands at 52 for many and is set to rise to 58, and perhaps even higher.

Nationwide protests cause widespread disruption
Video from TRT World

Many French are covered by pensions that provide for retirement from as young us at 52 with payments typically equal to the average of the last six months wage.

The new system would introduce a points score, where there is only a small payment for those who retire at 52, and climbing each year to 58. In practice, many would not get enough to retire on, and the retirement age will rise by default.

The change comes after new and more employer friendly labour laws, and company tax cuts.

Anger among workers has been building.

France paralysed by biggest strike in years
Video from BBC News

Strikers have vowed to continue until Macron abandons the pension change.

The last time a French government had tried to downgrade the pension system was in 1995. A similar strike forced the government to retreat in three weeks.

This time, the strike faces a government more inclined to act tough. The arrest of 65 people even before the marches associated with the strike started, was a good early indicator, of how this latest crisis was going to be handled.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner came out to publicly denounce anarchists and Yellow Vests of intentions to cause trouble. A move that could regarded as preparing the ground for heavy handed policing. And this is exactly how it went.

Tear gas flies during Paris pension reform strikes
Video from Ruptly

This could be a defining moment for Macron, which will determine his capacity to carry on with the neoliberal reforms that made him the darling of the old establishment. If he can secure the pension cuts, the next step will be to take on unemployment benefits.

Lyon, France’s second city joins the strike

Video from Ruptly

At the time of writing, the strike is set to continue for its second day. The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union federation says 1.5 million joined street marches on the first day. Another big turnout is expected today.

But the crucial test may be next Monday. If the strike is continuing as broadly as it is now, it will signal the willingness of unions and their members to keep on going for the long haul.

In Toulouse
Video from Ruptly

Key factors will be the willingness of workers to stay out and the level of public support for the strike. Polls show that most of the french population is supporting the strike.

Firefighters join the strike march in Bordeaux

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