France Strikes: Will They Continue and For How Long?


French newsIn the wake of the second round of strikes on Sept. 23 after Sept. 7, unions are calling for continued protest against French government plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, and 65 to 67 for full pension access, among other details in a large, long-overdue reform of the retirement and pension system. As Labor Minister Eric Woerth was quoted by Reuters:

“We haven’t changed. We are very firm on the core of the reform, which is [the retirement] age.” The government says the legislation is essential to erase a growing deficit in the pay-as-you-go pension system, curb rising public debt and preserve France’s coveted AAA credit ratings, which enables it to borrow at the lowest market rates…”If you don’t reform it, it simply won’t be viable and we won’t be able to pay French people’s pensions,” Woerth said.

This is turning out to be quite a fierce battle, and even though Sarkozy has been speaking around the country showing some concessionary measures (for arduous jobs like firemen and policemen, and taking into account the situations of working mothers), the core of the reform is on the table. It has been adopted by the Assemblée Nationale and is awaiting approval in the Senate.

Woerth said that the strike movement was not as big on Sept. 23 and was in effect waning. Of course there was much divergence on analysis of participation, between one and three million protesting (from police estimates to union estimates). This is often the case.

As the reform text will most likely be passed in the Senate on Oct. 5, after having already been approved by the Assemblée Nationale, most French people realize that these protests will not change the government’s core policy proposals. In a Figaro poll, nearly 85% of people out of more than 31,000 said that the “retirement reform would come to fruition despite the strikes and protests.”

But the left is not backing down and Socialist Party head and Lille mayor Martine Aubry has vowed that if the Socialists win the presidency in 2012, they will bring the retirement age back to 60. We’ll see how that goes. For now, the unions are speaking about October strikes possibly affecting weekend traffic. They do not want to give up just yet.

In the event of continued strikes, you can see the websites of the major metro areas and SNCF, the national railway operator, below.

Le Figaro presents a great special report on the retirement reform here.

Major cities, transport links for news (mostly in French): SNCF, Paris, LyonGrenobleMarseilleToulouseBordeauxStrasbourgLilleNiceNantesRennesDijon, BrestCaenLa RochelleLe HavreMontpellier

Here is an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how Vélib (the Paris public bike rental system) prepares for strike days,  where they see a significant increase in bike usage (20-30% more on Sep. 7 than normal days, over 130,000 rentals per day).

Very active within the American community of France, Michael Barrett is a communications consultant, freelance translator and English teacher. He writes a must-read blog for expats called American Expat In France. Michael can be reached by email here.

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