THE PENSIONS’ REFORM : 45 STRIKE DAYS FOR A DIGNIFIED LIFE: From 5 December 2019, Emmanuel Macron and his government successfully galvanised and joined-up the many social sectors angered by their pensions’ reform project. In Paris, the central protests started with the railway (SNCF), metro and bus workers, the teachers, the lycées’ students and those in higher education. They broadened their demands to include higher wages and better working conditions; then the doctors joined in, the public hospitals’ workers (whose emergency departments have been struggling for more than 9 months), the power-plant and hydro-electric workers, the oil refineries, the dockers, the port employees, the seafarers, firefighters, waste collectors, labourers and fishers, artists and spectacle operators, lawyers – and even a sector of the national police.
This is now the 45th day of the strike throughout France to get the project withdrawn, punctuated by daily demonstrations in Paris and the big towns. According to the media, this is the longest conflict since May 1968 (which lasted more than 30 days) and the big 1995 strike that fought the previous pension reforms of Alain Juppé.
Anger about what ?
This is a new reform that, once again, endangers all the social gains won by working class struggle since the end of WW2. It is a retreat even greater than that imposed by the previous reforms, those of 2003 and 2010 in times when the working class had won the fight for the pension at 60, instead of 65. Bit by bit, our unique system of social protection ‘by repartition’ is being destroyed. Put in place by the Communist Ambroise Croizat in 1946, this was a system of solidarity between workers and pensioners, the latter seen as workers in their own right, and for whom “retirement must no longer be the anti-chamber of death but a new stage in life”.
The government’s arguments to justify its changes are completely false and hypocritical:
Equal Treatment – The universal system based on points should provide the same rights for all
Far from what we are being told, the ‘capitalisation’  of this system is going to deepen the level of inequalities between workers, and at the great cost of women in part-time work and career breaks. And the value of the ‘point’ , in not always being known, there is no guaranteed pension. This is made worse by the power of the political class to lower it.
There is also the separate issue of the ‘special regime’ pensions. These were granted in the past to workers and employees when they won the right to early retirement, as for example when the job had been too exacting and impactful on health. The ‘universal system’ being introduced here is going to cause to these people losses even greater than those that followed the Macron’s Labour Code Executive Orders . “If we lose our pension rights, we are as good as dead!”. This is what you hear from those involved in this struggle today.
By taking account of the whole career, the system will serve even the small earners
But this reform is a levelling down. Since the contributions calculations will be based on the 25 best years instead of the best 10, all sectors stand to lose by it. As the demonstrators say, here we have “to work more to live less!”
The legal pension age will stay at 62 and consider the whole career
But this is another ploy. The legal age stays at 62, but it is from 64 that you get a deduction if you leave earlier, or an increase if you leave later. A recent impact study in Le Monde shows that this new ‘pivot age’ will not even be 64, but 67, for those born after 1990. These people will lose 3 years.
The minimum pension will be set at 85% of the minimum wage
This measure applies to a complete career of 43 quarters of pension contributions. This is the way it was these last 10 years; but 1,000 Euros a month is far from a breakthrough for those who have nothing else. This was going to be improved and surpassed in 2003 when a law was passed to this effect, but it was never implemented. How can you live today in France with 1,000 Euros – with housing beyond the reach of so many, some even dying of cold in the streets or in homes that they cannot heat? What this pension reform ‘universalises’ is the worsening of poverty and indecent conditions.
A class war :
With this reform and the dismantlement of social security, the government builds a single system under State tutelage free of any negotiation with the trade unions. The large financial groups, the banks and the insurance companies are on stand-by, with their eyes on the 300 billion pensions pot. Companies like BlackRock, Axa and others wait in the wings to lay their hand on this and the saving funds of the population.
This government does everything to break the inter-generations solidarity. In December, Prime minister Edouard Philippe announced the reform applies now to all those starting work. There will be three categories. Those born before 1975 will remain in the present system. Those born between 1975 and 2003 enter the new ‘universal regime’, and those born in 2004 will have the new regime applied to them in 2022. People feel that their future, that of their children and that of their grand-children is being mortgaged. “The future of our children is not for sale” they say when they join the demonstrations.
It is this situation that moved the strikers to keep going over Christmas. Now they are unanimous in their determination to continue until the project is withdrawn. Actions called “gréveillons”  were set up to spent Christmas on the piquet line. The population showed its solidarity by bringing food to the strikers and toys for the children. The strike-funds set up all over the country where important to those going short.
In the way of best wishes for the New Year, Emmanuel Macron announced he was changing nothing to the reform and that he was going to see it through. This supreme contempt did little to appease a social movement where the Gilets Jaunes now intervene alongside the trade union militants. At the start of January, the continuation and acceleration of the strike was announced with a renewed determination to keep up the fight until the Reform is withdrawn.
As new sectors join the strike, the new forms of action go for power centres:
Blockading the 8 oil refineries led to petrol shortages in 700 gas stations
Mobilisations in the ports with dockers, sailors and port employees in several big towns like Le Havre, Marseilles, Dunkerque, Fos-sur-Mer
Announcement of an illimited “hard strike” by lawyers who threw their black robes at the foot of the Palais of Justice in Lyon. They prepare a non-conformity challenge between the Reform and the Constitution. They reject the Reform because it will worsen the inequalities and lower some people’s access to justice
Strike of the pilots, stewards and hostesses at Air France who fight for their rights
Strike at the Banque de France and related activities, cash supplies, security agents, bank notes handling and printing and offices working 24/7.
Support organised for the workers in the private sector. The Auchan employees (Toulouse region) against restructurings; the Airbus workers and those at Sanofi (pharma). The chambermaids at the Hotel Ibis Batignolles in Paris who have fought these last 6 months against unendurable speed-ups, unpaid overtime and slave-like working conditions
The artists, dancers and musicians at the Opera de Paris. They fight by offering spectacles for free to the public and demonstrators. The employees of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France have gone on strike, and those of Radio and TV have been out since 25 November 2019
Those employed in energy production and nuclear-power stations have turned electricity off in areas, as in the big commercial centre of Parinor near Paris, and the Commissariatin Bordeaux. For several days, the electricity workers have conducted “Robinhood” actions in Clermond-Ferrand and other parts
Fire workers, refuse collectors, sewer operatives and all those who do the hard and heavy work, bring their anger to the streets.