French unions call January strike action against pension reform

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French unions call January strike action against pension reform
People take part in a demonstration called by several representative workers unions on January 29, 2020 against French government pension reform. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

France's eight main trade unions called for a day of strikes and protests in January against pension reform announced by the French government.


The one-day strikes on January 19th aim to "kick off a powerful movement for pensions in the long term", said a joint statement from the unions whose leaders met on Tuesday evening in Paris to plan their next steps.

It is not yet clear how many people will join the strikes and which services will be affected.

It will be the first time in 12 years -- since the last pension changes -- that all of France's unions are united, with the head of the more moderate CFDT, Laurent Berger, calling the reform "one of the most brutal of the last 30 years."

The headline of the government's proposals is raising the pension age from 62 to 64. 

Philippe Martinez the head of the hardline CGT union said: "We are determined that this bill does not pass and it will not pass through parliament.

Martinez was angry that his union's ideas had been rejected during consultation with the government.

"We participated in the consultation, we made proposals, we presented points of view on long careers, hardship, but they did not change anything.

He said the fact unions were all unanimously against the plan meant a "maximum of workers" would be on strike.

Laurent Escure from the UNSA union said: “People will two fewer years to enjoy their retirement, enjoy their children, their grandchildren. This is why there is such strong desire among the public that the reform is massively rejected."

"There will no doubt be protests and actions every day in companies, local administrations, in front of schools, hospitals and I invite everyone to show their dissatisfaction simply by putting up posters on their car or their business," he added.

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Presenting the outlines of the government’s plans on Tuesday after months of suspense, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said that doing nothing about projected deficits for the pension system would be “irresponsible”.


“It would lead inevitably to a massive increase in taxes, a reduction in pensions and would pose a threat to our pensions system,” she said.

Major disruption is expected in the coming weeks, with opinion polls showing that around two thirds of French people oppose raising the retirement age and most would support protests.

Despite pledges to raise the minimum pension to nearly €1,200 a month, left-wing opponents say the reform is unfair because it will disproportionately affect unskilled workers who started their careers early, sometimes in their teens.

French economist and author Thomas Piketty wrote in Le Monde newspaper at the weekend that the projected savings of 20 billion euros a year by 2030 "will weigh down entirely on the poorest".

The once-mighty French unions are also in steady decline and have repeatedly lost out in their struggles with Macron.

"If they lose this battle again, if they get nothing on the pension issue, it will be complicated for them to manage the aftermath," said Stephane Sirot, a historian and author specialising in the French labour movement.


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