Last Thursday, a surge of discontent burst into the biggest nationwide strike in France over President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms. This reform was perceived to be detrimental to workers, as they would now work longer only to retire with a pension shortfall. According to Al Jazeera, “Protesters are mainly worried that the government’s reform mean they will have to work longer, later in life. Some are also worried they will have their pensions reduced.” Workers were far-flung across the country in an effort to oppose Macron’s overhaul of the existing pension system.
Changes to the pension system have long been a controversial matter for more than two decades. In 1995, France witnessed a week of unruly and crippling demonstrations after President Jacques Chirac made an attempt to reform the pension system. Since then, no president has tried to transform the pension system. The dissatisfaction again erupted after Macron announced his intention to simplify the complex pension system into a single points-based system which provides equal rights to every pensioner. According to Macron, he wants to reform the unfair and costly pension system that consists of more than 40 different plans with different retirement ages and benefits. The new proposed system is targeted to make every pensioner retire on the same amount of pension.
It appears the strike will continue indefinitely if Macron persists in pushing his new proposal. According to Isabelle Guibal, “For 30 years, successive governments have tried to bring reform and failed because the unions crippled the country”, BBC news. Union leaders vowed to continue their marches and demonstrations until government declines to overhaul pension system. Apparently, more than 800,000 people from a variety of professions including workers, teachers, students, hospitals workers peacefully marched across the main streets in Paris calling on the governments to abandon this change to the system. The unrest has instead escalated to violence, as riot police deployed and fired tear gas to quell the crowd. As the New York Times reported, “Some violent protesters burned vehicles and threw projectiles at the police there, and officers fired tear gas and charged the group.” Dozens of protesters have been arrested by the riot police. Furthermore, major public transport and hospitals encountered a severe disruption by the protest. A number of secondary schools and universities were shut down simultaneously.
Based on OECD, France has one of the most expensive pension systems in the worlds. The change of the system would reduce the advantages that every pensioner will get as well as encourage them to work longer that they used to. According to Philippe, the president’s stoic frontman for the pension plan, said, “through incentives and penalties, the French would be encouraged to work until 64, one of the lowest in Europe. He also made concession on the start date of the changes which will go into effect on 2022.”
An open-nation strike was an overwhelming discontent and frustration toward government’s pension plan. It has been continued for a week long since it sporadic outbreak on Thursday. Widespread participation has amplified resentment in which it creates a new havoc for government after its successful effort to calm down “Yellow Vest” protest last year over economic inequality. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said “thousands of anarchists black bloc and hardcore yellow vest protesters were expected to wreak havoc in France.” The proposed plan elicited great public worry that put France on the brink of severe dissent and social unrest. Therefore, Macron needs to reconsider his move in order to ensure France’s long-term peace and stability.