Les Grèves Continuent: French General Strikes Continue Amidst Retirement Age Increase

In a Paris news conference on January 10th, French prime minister Elisabeth Borne announced that the minimum retirement age to be entitled to a full, state-provided pension will increase by three months every year, starting this year, in line with a pledge made by President Emmanuel Macron in October. The minimum age, she said, will increase from 62 to 64 years old by 2030. Starting in 2027, French citizens will additionally need to have worked for at least 43 years to be entitled to that full pension. Those who started working before 20 years old will still be able to retire early, and some categories of workers, like police officers and firefighters, will also keep the right to retire earlier.

“Working more will allow future retirees to get higher pensions,” Prime Minister Borne said. “By 2030, our system will be financially balanced.”

The government argues that the French lifespan is longer than it used to be, and therefore, they should work longer to make the government-provided pension system financially sustainable. The French do not agree with this logic, however, and outraged workers’ strikes aiming to prevent the change have sparked across the nation.

While speaking in Brussels last week, Macron urged unions to show a “spirit of responsibility” and “not block the life of the rest of the country,” but this sentiment has been largely ignored. Train conductors and bus drivers have not been going to work, causing long delays and making it difficult for people to get to work or school. The RATP, the Paris train system, will have to give out re-imbursements to people with reloadable train cards who have not been able to get their money’s worth during this chaotic time. Air traffic controllers at Paris-Orly airport also staged an unannounced strike which resulted in 50% of flights from the airport being cancelled. In the northwest city of Rennes, meanwhile, police used water cannons on crowds of protestors when the leaders of France’s eight main unions led a march. A car was even set on fire.

French general strikes have had significant effects on the country’s economy in the past, with the scale of each’s impact depending on its duration. When former president Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to reform special pension schemes and increase the years of service required for a special pension from 37.5 to 40 in November 2007, the protests and strikes of the resulting social movement only lasted 10 days, but the nation’s G.D.P. decreased by 0.2%. The current grèves have been going on for much longer than that now, so it is likely that the economic damages will be worse this time around.

Hopefully, France’s citizens and leaders can come to some sort of understanding, where the workers can understand the reasoning and economic motivation behind this legislation and the French government can be more empathetic and forgiving towards the upset that these striking workers are feeling. Unfortunately, there has been an impasse of compassion between the two groups for the past month, without an end in sight.