Macron’s pension reform achieves an unusual unity of all French unions

Macron’s pension reform achieves an unusual unity of all French unions

Increase the intensity without exhausting the forces. After the great mobilization on January 19 against the pension reform, the eight main French trade unions and the five youth movements that support them want to take advantage of this first shock to build the foundations of a long-term protest term and thus maintain the pressure on the Executive.

France faces a January of social mobilizations with the pulse to the pension reform


This Tuesday a second national day of protests will take place with the declared objective of achieving the withdrawal of a project that they consider “unacceptable” and contrary to the “interests of the population.”

After the success claimed by the unions on that first day of mobilization, with more than two million demonstrators – the Ministry of the Interior counted 1.12 million – the unions met that same night in Paris to decide the path to follow. Some groups advocated initiatives that could be renewed every day, but finally they opted for mobilizations interspersed over several weeks.

“You cannot seek broad support from the population and, at the same time, want to organize a demonstration on Tuesday, followed by another on Thursday. That doesn’t work, because many workers cannot keep up with such an intense pace”, explained Laurent Berger, leader of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT), this Monday in an interview on public television. “But we’ll see if we have to change methods in the coming weeks.”

Although all the leftist political parties have supported the mobilization, for the moment it is the union leaders who manage the times and organize the opposition in the streets. The deputies of the New Popular Ecologist and Social Union (Nupes) coalition will prolong the momentum in the parliamentary debates that open next week in the National Assembly.

lack of negotiation

Within the union front united against the reform –something that had not happened since 2010–, the role of the CFDT is being followed with special attention, since it is a union that is more open to negotiations with the Government, a privileged interlocutor in various pension reforms. Not in this case: the Executive has presented the delay of the retirement age, one of the two red lines for the union, as non-negotiable, together with the extension of the contribution period.

“The way of acting of Emmanuel Macron, who chooses to ignore the social actors intermediate in his procedures, complicates the action of the CFDT: a unionism of social agreement needs interlocutors that currently do not exist at the state level”, explained the historian Stéphane Sirot, specialist in social movements, in an interview in Europe 1. “On the other hand, in the future a delicate question could arise within the coalition regarding the modalities of continuation of the social movement.”

The other union that is having more weight is the General Confederation of Labor (CGT). Majority in several key sectors for economic activity, some of its federations, such as mines-energy and chemicals, are being the most combative and the most critical of the inter-union leadership, in favor of a strategy of increasing mobilization, advocating to prolong their actions until February 6, which corresponds to the beginning of the parliamentary examination of the bill.

Thus, the branch of the CGT in the oil industry has called several days of strikes, on January 19 and 26 and February 6, to protest against the government’s pension reform project. “We are aware that one day will not be enough to make the government back down,” said Éric Sellini, national coordinator of the CGT at TotalEnergies, on BFMTV, while stating that the strikes could affect the fuel supply of gas stations.

“One of the risks of this reform is that the country will be blocked by strikes and demonstrations,” explains Bruno Palier, political scientist and research director at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), to “But that does not bother the government if the project goes ahead in the end: its calculation is that those who go on strike are not part of its electorate and that the mobilizations are the price to pay for a reform that it considers essential for budgetary reasons.”

parliamentary difficulties

However, after the strong mobilization of the first day, the equation has become complicated for the Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, both on the front of public opinion and on the parliamentary front. All the polls show that the population opposes the bill (although according to Ipsos, the majority of the French believe that the reform will finally be carried out).

“Between the parliamentary path and that of social dialogue, the government has preferred the first solution,” former President François Hollande analyzed this weekend in statements to The world. “As soon as the red lines of the CFDT are not respected, a strong unitary social movement is to be expected, which can, in turn, disintegrate the parliamentary agreement.”

The Government now fears losing one of its main arguments before public opinion: the parliamentary majority achieved thanks to the agreement with the Los Republicanos party. Because although the leaders of that party have promised to support the text, at least a dozen parliamentarians from the group affirm that, in the current state, they will not respect party discipline and will vote against it, as will a dozen deputies from the presidential coalition itself, including former minister Barbara Pompili. Thus, the vote in the National Assembly could be decided by a handful of votes.

The Government could try to convince the undecided with some measures to reduce the harshness of the reform, but with the announcement a few weeks ago of the revaluation of the minimum pensions, they have already played one of their main assets. Meanwhile, Élisabeth Borne told France Info on Sunday that the emblematic measure, the delay in the retirement age from 62 to 64, “is non-negotiable”.


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