France: more mass protests against pension reform

In France, the string of nationwide strikes and demonstrations against the government's pension reform plans continues. According to the authorities, 1.3 million people took to the streets across the country on Tuesday. Long-distance and local trains were cancelled, teachers staged walkouts and refineries were blocked. What does this fierce resistance mean?

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Libération (FR) /

The president's deaf ear

Macron has learned nothing from past crises, Libération criticises:

“He thinks he has ten days more of gritting his teeth and watching France protest without a peep until the reform project is finally passed and the public heavy-heartedly turns its attention to other issues. ... But how can he possibly believe that this won't leave a mark? If the various ministers who have tried one after the other to calm the masses - overusing the word 'responsibility' - can be taken at their word, it is clear that it is the trade union leaders who have shouldered the real responsibility in this crisis. They have been able to unite and organise demonstrations without major riots.”

Mediapart (FR) /

The country's future is at stake

Mediapart argues that the resistance to the pension reform is very different from previous protest movements:

“Its size, its tenacity, its determination and its duration, but above all its extraordinary unity, prove that it is neither a slogan nor a repetition. Those who have been demonstrating, striking, approving or backing for two months have understood what the pension struggle is about: issues that are crucial for the future of our country, its future cohesion and its coming generations. These are social, democratic and, to put it bluntly, civilisational questions.”

Slate (FR) /

Total blockades almost impossible these days

These days it would be difficult to bring France to a complete standstill, Slate argues:

“Changes in the organisation of the public services and their growing precariousness have blunted trade union dynamics. Telework, prematurely hailed by some trade unionists as a social victory, automatically works against the goal of achieving a 'blockade'. Lauded by many media during the Covid months, working from home has undoubtedly had a 'strike-breaking' effect. ... Strikes now have an effect on the wallet, but no symbolic effect on the labour community.”

La Croix (FR) /

Irrational escalation

La Croix explains why the struggle over the pension reform is escalating:

“This irrational dramatisation, which is in no one's interest, is a result of the weakness of the players. The government lacks an absolute majority in the National Assembly, and has quickly put itself in the hands of an ally (the liberal-conservative Les Républicains) which is less reliable than it seems. And the trade unions, while they are undeniably showing collective intelligence by putting together a united front of rejection, are doing so mainly because the two largest confederations remain prisoner to their rank and file as they face a renewal of their leaderships. ... Clearly there is never a good time for pension reform. ... But rarely have the political conditions been so unfavourable.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

French clinging to their social model

Macron's plans will continue to hit a wall with the French, Corriere della Sera's Paris correspondent Stefano Montefiori believes:

“The most criticised measure is raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 (with exceptions for hard physical labour). This does not seem like such a big sacrifice, considering that the limit is generally higher in Europe and that life expectancy continues to increase in France as elsewhere. ... But the French cling to their special status and the achievements of their social model. And when the government declares that they should work longer in order to finance this social model, the answer is that the billionaires who have multiplied their wealth in recent years while the middle class has become poorer should be asked to pay up.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Strikes drive inflation

The wave of protests is becoming a risk for the economy, warns Handelblatt's Paris correspondent Gregor Waschinski:

“Because the unions want to extend the strikes in the energy sector of all places. At energy company EDF, workers already began strikes at the end of last week, and French electricity production is falling. The strikes at the Total Energies refineries are likely to have an impact on petrol and diesel supplies in the country. The result could be rising prices - not only for companies but also for the working population.”