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'We should work less, France produces enough'

Dan MacGuill · 10 Sep 2013, 17:38

Published: 10 Sep 2013 17:38 GMT+02:00

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Pension overhauls are highly contentious in France - with previous efforts in 1995 and 2010 unleashing mass protests and damaging strikes. Although the Socialist government's latest reform has not yet met with the same level of resistance, just yet, Tuesday marked a day of action that organisers promise will just be the first of many.

France is under pressure from the European Union, looking to plug a gaping hole in its pensions piggy bank, which is predicted to be €20 billion ($26.5 billion) into the red by 2020.

However, protesters who took to the streets of Paris on Tuesday were defiant, calling on the Socialist goverment, which will put forward the full package of reforms on September 18th, to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better plan. Protesters were also demanding a greater effort to create more jobs.

Here's what a few of them had  to say on the matter of pensions and jobs to The Local.

Emma, Paris area, 18, law student.

“I’m 18 years old, so the €20 billion debt we keep hearing about will be my problem. But what we really need now are jobs, and for me the solution to unemployment can be found on the European level.

"There are a few things we can do:  for example, we have to create a Europe-wide minimum wage, we should also tax financial transactions more, which will give us a fairer tax system and help with the debt.

"Yes, pensions are an issue, but any reform of pensions, which will ultimately affect young people most, must be done in a fair way.

"Why are we out here protesting? Because it’s part of French history and tradition. Every change that’s come in French history has come from people fighting for it.

"We had the revolution, of course, but also the struggle for women’s rights, the fight to free French education, and now we have a similar struggle to protect pensions.

"So protesting like this today is just a tool, like any other, to show the government and our fellow citizens what we think.”

"As a socialist, I have a lot more faith in this government than I did the last one. I voted for Hollande in both rounds of the election, but I’m disappointed. I still have hope that they can show themselves to be more left-wing, and defeat the Right, but I’m disappointed.”

Jean-Marc, union representative, Paris region

"At the very least our pensions system protects retired people, and these days the government would be better off worrying about creating jobs, instead of plotting against workers with Medef and other employers’ unions.

"And I simply don’t believe the government when it talks about this €20 billion debt.

"So that’s why we’re fighting. Yes, it’s a French tradition to demonstrate when we have a social or economic problem, but these days, we wouldn’t gain a single thing if we didn’t struggle for it.

"If we fight, we might well lose, but if we don’t fight at all, we’re guaranteed to lose."

Maximilien, 19, 7th arrondissement of Paris

"The pensions problem is simple – what pays for pensions is work. And what we need now is to get people working again, but the government has failed on that count.

"And the French government is contradicting itself when it comes to the debt in the pensions system. On the one hand they can protect the incomes of millionaires, but they can’t finance pensions.

"Something like 70 percent of people want to defend the pensions system as it is, but the reason we’re here today is to convince the French people to get involved in a campaign to protect it.

"And protesting isn’t exclusive to the French. I lived in Oxford during the fees protests, and I saw that the British, for example, aren’t exactly incapable of protesting themselves."

Aurianne, union representative, from the suburbs of Paris.

“This €20 billion debt they talk about isn’t a problem. We can simply cancel it. And then we can go on to create a country where there’s a proper distribution of wealth between employers and workers.

Story continues below…

"The real problem is that this government hasn’t fought back against the pressure it’s getting from Europe. Paris is the same as Brussels, and every other European capital.

"I know the age of retirement is higher in other countries, but that just means it should be lower there, too.

"This isn’t so much even a question of age. The point is – we produce enough, collectively, that we can afford to work less, individually.

"It’s great to see so many people out here who want to change things in France, and who are demanding to express themselves.”

Others in Paris on Tuesday, however, preferred to express their anger and frustration through the time-honoured tradition of creative signs.

One demonstrator slammed what he saw as too many similarities between Socialist President François Hollande, and his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy. 

Parodying Hollande's campaign slogan "Le changement c'est maintenant" (Change is Now), this sign says simply "Sarko-Hollande: Change is up your ass."

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Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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