A Look at the French Pension Reform Strike

Protestors of the Suggested Pension Reforms

Protests and strikes are not uncommon in France, but the recent French transportation strike that began on December 5, 2019 has lasted longer than any other strike since 1968. Protestation against a seemingly unjust system is a French tradition that can be traced back to its famed revolution, but this strike is like no other in recent history. By the end of the first day of the strike, more than 800,00 people had marched in protest of pension reforms, and on December 18, 2019 (just two weeks into this long strike), the strike was estimated to cost the economy 445 million U.S. dollars a day. It’s motive is simple: to change the pension system in France. The plan espoused by the strikes would greatly change the way pensions work in France, and similar attempts for pension changes have been protested against in the past. Some changes have been made to the system, but these changes have not simplified or drastically altered the system in the way President Macron’s plan would. 

Currently, France has 42 pension systems, with every retiree in France receiving a pension. Some professions in France have a special pension system like some of the transportation industry workers. Railroad workers have an earlier retirement age in the current system than some other professions. 

There are multiple proposed changes, but one of the most drastic changes would be moving to a universal system. This means all of the workers across different professions would have the same pension rights. President Macron has promised that the proposed changes would create a simpler system. The president has argued that the system would be more fair and that certain parts of the current system would be left in place. The system would be more fair in the sense that everyone would contribute the same amount and have the same rights. This would get rid of the system where workers of some professions can retire with full pension before the minimum retirement age of 62. 

People have various issues with the proposed plan by President Macron. Unions representing several different professions say that the reforms to the pension system would cause people to work later or face reduced payments. As the strike has gone on the railroads and public transit have remained in upheaval due to transportation workers being on strike. In addition, members of other professions like teaching and healthcare have gone on strike as well. While many complaints about the reforms have been about raising retirement ages for certain groups, the reforms would have much farther reaching effects than simply changing retirement ages. However, it is hard to definitively say how the reforms would change the benefits for any single individual. 

Many French people have steadfast approval for the strike, and polling numbers hovered between 59% and 69% supporting it for most of December despite the widespread disruption it causes. Even though people ardently oppose pension reform, the current pension system is not without issues. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe commissioned a report that says by 2025 the pension deficit could be €17.2 billion ($19 billion). Also, the current system costs, in public spending, 14% of GDP. One of the goals of the reforms would be to address the economic issue of the high cost of pensions. 

As the strike began both Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and President Macron said that they were not going to back down on these reforms. And, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe went into talks with union leaders resolutely. But, after talks with ministers and union leaders, he announced that he would remove the measure to raise the pension claiming age to 64 from 62 from the law for the time being. President Macron supported this concession, and many had hoped that this concession would lead to a decrease in strikes and less disruption of the transportation system. The CFDT (French Democratic Confederation of Labour) and several other unions were happy with the government’s concession. However, several other unions, including the CGT (General Confederation of Labour), have said that they demand the withdrawal of pension reform plans. 

This pension reform strike in some ways resembles the pension reform strikes of 1995. The government with Jacques Chirac as president and Alain Juppe as prime minister was reaching for a universal pension system, just like now. After three weeks and millions of people protesting and striking, government leaders stopped pushing reform for economics, because the city of Paris and many other parts of France had come to a standstill. This can’t help but lead to the question: “Will these pension reforms fail to occur like those proposed in 1995?” 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *