Across France, over 452,000 workers have continued to peacefully strike against the Macron administration’s attempted pension overhaul which threatens to convert France’s 42 distinct pension regimes into a universal points-based system. These proposed changes would see the implementation of incentives for workers who retire two years after the legal age of retirement, the prevention of retirement before the age of 62, and other measures. And as protests enter into their sixth week, debates between the French government and the working class resistance have reached a deadlock.
In particular, the crippling of the French transportation system during the recent Christmas season has decimated morale amongst the population. But both the demonstrators, and the Macron administration are determined to utilise this public frustration – with unions blaming the national railway company and vice versa.
According to the National Centre for Scientific Research’s sociologist, Philippe d’Iribarne, “France remains a society composed of ranks, and it is permanently threatened by the arrogance of the strong and the resentment of the powerless.” And this is reflected in Macron’s support amongst upper-middle-class populations and simultaneous critiques amongst blue collar workers.
The sheer pressure the workers’ movement has applied to the French government is astounding and demonstrates the power that peaceful protest can have. However, whether or not the unions will be able to overcome this impasse is difficult to say. This is an issue rooted in the deeply divisive class structure of French society. But given the stark difference between Macron’s corporatist motivations and the working class desire for union solidarity, it is hard to see whether a satisfying compromise is viable in any way, shape, or form. However, the use of peaceful protest, and in particular transport strikes has been useful in drawing attention to the issue as it interrupts an important part of most people’s everyday lives. As such, these protests are supported by at least 51% of the population according to Le Journal du Dimanche.
This transportation strike has been in progress since 5th December 2019. The initial protests led to the shutdown of the Eiffel Tower and most of Paris’ light rail system along with the day-long closure of schools across the city and hundreds of flight cancellations. Since then, strikes have continued to disrupt a variety of transport systems, and even spread to sectors beyond the transport industry including the police force and military, law firms, and even some parts of the arts industry.
These protests have continued to garner support beyond their initial target demographic. This can be attributed to the way transport strikes disrupt an important yet often overlooked part of everyday life. By creating such a disturbance in a non-violent way, it is easier to raise awareness and support as it does not generate fear amongst the wider population, but rather creates a sense of mild annoyance, which is easier to act upon and in turn makes change more achievable.
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