Written by Dmitri Gorokhov; Originally appeared at TASS, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The day of general mobilisation against pension reform was the tsunami promised by the French trade unions, but critics of the pension reform did not lay down their arms
“Trade unions have strengthened, transport is deeply affected, the administration is under pressure”, colleagues from the French agency AFP clearly summed up in telegraphic language the results of the protests against the pension reform, which were held by the French trade unions on the first Thursday in December.
In addition to Paris, strikes and demonstrations covered another 240 cities, including the metropolitan areas of Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille and Strasbourg. According to the General Confederation of Labour, they gathered 1.5 million people in France; according to the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic, 806 thousand.
Strikes and demonstrations will continue throughout the weekend. The railway company SNCF has cancelled nine out of ten of its trains these days. The country’s main carrier Air France has cancelled every third flight on domestic routes. Seven of the eight refineries have ceased operations.
From Teachers to Police
More than 40% of schoolteachers decided to participate in the strike. It even affected the police: disgruntled workers blocked a few commissariats. Protests against the government reform were supported by the Yellow Vests and a number of political parties: Communists, Socialists, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Insubordinate France and Marine Le Pen’s National Union.
“But only on Monday the protest action can be turned into an asset to open serious negotiations with the government”, said Jean Levallois, an experienced columnist for La Presse de la Manche.
The American press, meanwhile, did not miss an opportunity to scold the French for their “passion for strikes”. “Strikes and protests are a characteristic feature of life in France from the student revolt of 1968 to the modern demonstrations of the Yellow Vests, which struck the authorities with their strength and fury, says The Washington Post. No other Western democracy shows so much tolerance for burned cars and smashed shop windows”.
However, in the ranking of mass protests against government reforms in the last two decades, the strike on December 5 was second only to the demonstration against Fillon’s “pension reform”, which gathered 2 million demonstrators across the country on May 13, 2003. The project of François Fillon, then Minister of Social Affairs, was met with hostility at the time, as it intended to increase the length of service in the first stage to 40, and then to 42 years.
The first were the sailors
Pension rights have been a concern of the French for a long time. The first to acquire them were naval officers. They received their pension system in 1673 from the Intendant of Finance and a great admirer of seafaring, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who created the Fund for the Disabled of the Navy. Today in France, “the average retirement age is one of the lowest in the industrial countries, and the size of pensions, are one of the highest”, not without envy states The New York Times.
The new reform is related to the changed demographics and the state of finances. The fundamental idea of the draft of the universal pension regime, conceived as one of the main reforms of the presidency of Emmanuel Macron, is to guarantee the financial balance of the pension system, avoiding a multi-billion dollar deficit.
The task is hardly easy. In 1960, four employees in France provided the remuneration of one pensioner. Half a century later, in 2010, the ration was already 1.8 to 1. In the same year, Nicolas Sarkozy, then the owner of the Elysée Palace, decided to increase the retirement age from 60 to 62 years. Last year, the ratio of working and retired was already 1.7 to 1. According to the forecasts, in the next 20 years it will continue to decline and will be eventually be 1.5 to 1.
The President of the Republic, having just returned from the NATO summit in London, shared his own thoughts mainly with his entourage on what was happening. “The head of state is calm and determined to implement the reform by listening and consulting” his administration said. He is attentive to the maintenance of the public order and to the inconvenience endured by the French”. The Elysée Palace also announced that the pension reform would be explained in all its details next week.
“We respect the mobilisation of the French”, Secretary of State and government spokesperson Sibet Ndiaye elaborated at a briefing. As we can see, there are things that seem still unclear to the people”.
The chief communicator of the government found, however, this circumstance quite natural, because, as she stressed, “the negotiations are not over”. The government, the Secretary of State assured, is always open to talk with the unions, who are invited to a new meeting with the High Commissioner for Pension Reform, Jean-Paul Delvoye.
Full Pension – From the Age of 64
The new pension system proposed is to be built on the basis of points received throughout the career (the authors of the reform have not yet disclosed the value of one point). Concurrently, all preferential regimes, including for transport workers, which allowed earlier retirement compared to the official retirement age, will be relegated to the past.
The retirement age remains the same and will be universal for all professions: 62 years. But the retirement contribution period is increased; meaning most will have to leave work at 64 or later. In particular, the measure will affect today’s students.
In order to receive a full pension, many of those seeking the broadest possible education will have to work until at least the age of 70. As the government assures, as a result, pensions will not be devalued, although the share of expenses for their payment will stabilise at the level of 13.8% of the GDP. After all, the GDP will increase by then, which will provide more pensioners without causing a decrease in pensions.
The percentage of the pension, however, will be less than before to compensate for lost professional income. This decline, which will occur for the first time in modern history after a long continuous growth, planned, but will not, as the authors of the reform promise, be particularly large.
Until 2025 it will be quite moderate, the average pension will be approximately 49.8% of the average income during the period of professional activity. In 2018, it reached 51.4% of earnings.
Women will Save the System
Subsequently, the decline will become more obvious, and the pension bar will fall to 47.1-48% level of previous earnings. But the relative reduction of pensions, as assured by the Council of Ministers on pension issues, will not mean impoverishment in real terms of the next generation of pensioners.
The average pension, experts say, will continue to grow in euros as a result of the “gravy train” effect. The current generations of pensioners will be replaced by new ones, whose pensions will be higher on average due to the growth of professional activity of women.
According to the council, the Union forecast of a significant reduction in pensions therefore does not stand up to criticism. The authorities, quite naturally, try to present the reform in the most favourable light, promising, in particular, that it “will be favourable for women”. But according to the Institute of Social Protection, with the introduction of the points system, women’s pensions may actually decrease.
The High Commissioner on the pension reform Jean-Paul Delvoye found, however, a new resource to bring the system into balance. “To stabilise the system at the European level, we would need 50 million foreigners”, he said, making it clear that increased migration could have a positive impact on pension funding.