2010 French pension reform strikes
They involved union members from both the private and public sectors protesting in cities, including Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier and Strasbourg, against a proposal by the French government to raise the normal retirement age for public pensions from 65 to 67 and early reduced pensions from age 60 to 62, which the Assemblée nationale has approved, while temporary pre-crisis taxes cuts are maintained for the benefit of the richest individuals and companies, and top government officials are subject to an ongoing corruption inquiry. Those who object to the changes say the poorest will be most affected by them.
The strikes have led to a reduction in public transport services, motorway blockages by lorry drivers and disruption to oil deliveries to refineries leading to a national fuel shortage. French students also joined the workers in the protests with barricades being built at around 400 high schools across the country in order to try to prevent other pupils attending classes.
The strikes have been compared to the popularly supported 1995 strikes in France, with 70% of respondents to one poll suggesting the 2010 strikes would swell into a national movement akin to 1995, and a majority expressing support for such an event.CGT secretary Bernard Thibault, one of the main trade union leaders, commented to La Chaîne Info: "There have never since 1995 been as many protesters ... from both the public and private sectors, and now from all generations. The government is betting on this movement deteriorating, even breaking down. I think we have the means to disappoint them."
Reasons for the strikes
In 2007, the French government undertook a general review of its public policies (see French General Review of Public Policies) and one of the key proposals made in order to reduce government expenditure includes postponing the national retirement age.
In 1983, François Mitterrand's government reduced the retirement age from 65 to 60. The current government plans to raise the normal retirement age for public pensions from 65 to 67 and early reduced pensions from age 60 to 62. This may allow a reduction in public spending. Some people in the working population are opposed to this change. Workers' associations thus organized several strikes.
The size of the strikes also reflects a broader discontent with Sarkozy, with dissatisfaction and mistrust in the government approach for several reasons.
- Tax reductions
In recent years, and despite the financial crisis, the government has maintained tax cuts for the richest households and companies. A report from the French control department announce that 172 billions €/year are not perceived due to enterprises taxes reductions. French people are confused by the government's reasoning that social spending should be cut because of the lack of money, while pre-crisis special tax cuts are maintained for the richest companies and taxpayers. The 2005 pre-crisis Copé tax cut generated a €22 billion loss in revenue over 3 years, to the benefit of major companies, as opposed to the €1 billion formerly expected. A report by the Conseil des prélèvements obligatoires calculated the real tax rate for major companies, claimed to be about 33%, to actually be approximately 13%, thanks to tax deductions. The cancellation of some of those tax deductions for companies could put €15 to €29 billion a year back into French public finances.
There are concerns the proposals may have a negative effect on the job market, particularly for young workers. The reform may reduce job opportunities by 1 million and has led some students to join the protests.
For the French sociologist Louis Chauvel, due to demographic and economic history, the younger generation is in a specifically difficult situation. The jobless rate for youth (-25 years old) in France has been higher than 20% since 1980, reaching 26% in 2009. Despite the common appeasing promise than the job market would expand when babyboomers retire (2005–2020), the global crisis came, and retirement reforms plan to keep about 1 million more workers on the market. Other problems include repetitive poorly paid internships, job instability and lower incomes, while the qualifications and skills required for vacancies are ever-increasing, requiring several more years of education and financial investment than for previous generations, while postponing savings and contributions to the retirement insurance system. Moreover, rental costs for housing and relatively lower incomes reduce the quality of housing conditions. These tensions are fuelling anti-government feeling and the strike itself.
Overview of events
|This table is incomplete. (October 2010)|
|23 March 2010||395 thousand||800 thousand|
|1 May 2010||300 thousand|
|27 May 2010||1.0 million||395 thousand|
|15 June 2010||23 thousand||70 thousand|
|24 June 2010||700 thousand||1.92 million|
|7 Sept 2010||1.2 million||2.7 million|
|23 Sept 2010||1 million||3 million|
|2 Oct 2010||0.9 million||3 million|
|12 Oct 2010||1.2 million||3.5 million|
|16 Oct 2010||0.8 million||3 million|
|19 Oct 2010||1.1 million||3.5 million|
|28 Oct 2010||560 thousand||2 million|
|6 Nov 2010||375 thousand||1.2 million|
|23 Nov 2010||52 thousand|
French union leaders have organised fourteen days of nationwide strikes and demonstrations thus far, on Tuesday 7 September, Thursday 23 September, Saturday 2 October, Tuesday 12 October and Saturday 16 October, and Tuesday 19 October. The figures regarding the number of participants vary widely, with numbers being reported by the French Interior Ministry, police, and unions.
All twelve fuel refineries on the French mainland have been affected by the strike. As a result, one in four fuel stations across the country has run dry.
Students began to participate in the demonstrations during October, with 1 in every 15 schools in the country affected by the middle of the month. Police fired rubber bullets in Montreuil, Seine-Saint-Denis, causing a 16-year-old student to nearly lose an eye, with other students reported to have also been injured. Police sprayed tear gas on young protesters in Lyon, which was captured by television cameras. Families and children came to the fore on the third day, the first occasion on which a demonstration occurred on a Saturday.
Reaction by the French government
As a result of the strike action there have been minor concessions and amendments made to the pension proposals. President Nicolas Sarkozy said some mothers would be able to receive a full pension even if they had taken years out of work to look after children. However, the government maintains that the core of the proposed reform will not be changed.
A spokesman for Iran's Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission responded to the statement "In a democracy, everyone can express themselves but you have to do so without violence or excesses" made by the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, by saying "If protests had occurred in another country, it would have been interpreted as democracy. [Sarkozy] thinks if people support him [then] the society is democratic, and if people start criticizing him, then the society is undemocratic. Despite his claims, Sarkozy has not been able to successfully resolve the domestic problems of the French people."
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- See: Bouclier fiscal and Impôt de solidarité sur la fortune
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- France Is Burning: 2010 Protests - slideshow by Life magazine
- West Bank on the Left Bank - slideshow by Foreign Policy magazine
- In France, Protests Over Austerity Measures - slideshow by The New York Times