France: protests continue despite end of strikes

The weeks-long strikes against the pension reform seem to be over for the time being after several major trade unions called an end to them on the weekend, with services returning to normal on Monday. Smaller, more leftist unions and the yellow vests plan to continue their protests, however. Commentators ask who is still taking to the streets and why.

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e-vestnik (BG) /

Violent anti-capitalists with no money worries

The yellow vest protests in France once again turned violent on the weekend. E-vestnik looks at who is behind this aggression:

“It's not the railway workers and it's not the construction workers, and it's certainly not the socially deprived. Nope, it's the down-at-hell intellectuals, the eternal students, anarchists and communists - admirers of Bakunin, Trotsky and Che Guevara. They consider themselves the avant-garde of the 'class struggle'. They smash shop windows and ATMs and set fire to luxury restaurants. Hooded and masked, they clash with the police. They hardly care about the reforms because obviously they aren't affected. But clearly they have cash reserves that allow them to spend their time fighting capitalism instead of going to work every morning.”

Vedomosti (RU) /

A good system allows demonstrations

Given the conditions in Russia, Vedomosti takes a positive view of the protests in France:

“People's willingness to protest and the strong, independent trade unions are making life more difficult for the state, law enforcers and employers. But on the other hand, a good political system like the French one allows its citizens to express their dissatisfaction openly and legally and to force essential concessions from the state - without having to fear that peaceful protests will be declared mass riots, that the police will arrest demonstrators indiscriminately or that the courts will put them behind bars.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Naive ideas about the reforms

Le Figaro explains why Macron's original plans failed:

“Inadequate preparation of this mother of all reforms, as it has been called, was the first mistake. It was utopian to imagine that 42 pension systems could be combined into one as if by magic. It was clear that each individual would fight tooth and nail against concessions on special treatments, traditions and secured rights. And it was full-scale denial to claim at the start that it would not be necessary to raise the retirement age to secure the financing of the system. No one with any knowledge of our demographics could by fooled by this election promise. ... Hence the second conclusion: reform will come at a high price and the new system will certainly not be less opaque than the one we have now.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

No need for despair

However legitimate their dissatisfaction, the French can also build on their country's many strengths, columnist Aldo Cazzullo notes in Corriere della Sera:

“France doesn't know who it is, what role it should play in the world; and above all why for years its presidents have been demanding nothing but sacrifices. ... Post-war France was a poorer country than it is today ... But it was a country that moved from less to more, not the other way round. Back then, Mitterrand lowered the retirement age from 65 to 60. Today discontent is so great that people no longer see the positive aspects: a functioning state, a public health system that is still among the best in the world and demographics that are far more lively than those of Italy and Germany. So all is not lost.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Giving in was a mistake

The French government should not have backed down on the pension reform, says Helsingin Sanomat:

“Like many of its predecessors, the French government is giving in on the one thing it should not give in on. ... When the yellow vests were pacified with money, France abandoned its plan to make up for excessive spending this year and next year. Now the attempt to get its spending under control in the long term is also being abandoned. In the Eurozone the affairs of others are also our affairs. Reforms that strengthen the pension system are among the structural reforms that the euro countries should carry out in order to make the Eurozone function better in the future than it has done so far.”

Evrensel (TR) /

The industrial dispute will continue

For Evrensel, on the other hand, the concessions didn't go far enough:

“The increase in the retirement age was passed off as a 'reform', and Macron applied the pressure in the name of capital. Since September the working class has been responding massively to the attacks of the upper class with general strikes and protests - even more vehemently than in the protests of 1995. ... Even the unions have joined forces. The CFDT, which has close ties to the government, also had to join in because of pressure from below. And in the end the protests were successful. Prime Minister Philippe has put a temporary stop to a hike in the retirement age from 62 to 64 and has had to announce that the 'reform' will be discussed at a conference. The law has not been withdrawn completely, however, and the working class hasn't withdrawn either. The strikes and protests will continue.”