On Feb. 7, France’s eight largest unions turned out for the third strike of the year against Emanuel Macron’s deeply unpopular pension reforms. The fight to prevent a rise in the retirement age from 62 to 64 has galvanized French workers. On March 7, French unions have vowed to mobilize for the country’s sixth strike so far this year. This video is part of a special Workers of the World series on the cost of living crisis in Europe.
Producer, Videographer, Editor: Brandon Jourdan
Associate Producer, Translation: Nicolas Lee
Audio Post-Production: Tommy Harron
This story, with the support of the Bertha Foundation, is part of The Real News Network’s Workers of the World series, telling the stories of workers around the globe building collective power and redefining the future of work on their own terms.
Brandon Jourdan [Narrator]: Anger has exploded onto the French streets as President Emmanuel Macron vows to push through pension reforms despite popular opinion and a new nationwide strike wave.
Daniel Ferté, Ticket Inspector, FO Cheminot (Federation of Railway Workers): Today, we are in a situation where the government governs against its population, because the vast majority of the population is opposed to the reform, especially workers. According to surveys, 9 people (workers) out of 10 are opposed to the implementation of this reform.
Gaëlle Cavelier, Confédération Paysanne (Confederation of Farmers): This reform is very unpopular, we see it everywhere in France. French women and men are all against this pension [reform]. It seems to me the government is completely alone. They decided to push through the pension reform like a bulldozer, without listening to anyone.
Brandon Jourdan [Narrator]: On February 7th, 2023, the eight largest trade unions in France engaged in the third mass nationwide strike within a month. It was the first of two national strikes happening during the week with a second that occurred on February 11th. The strikes oppose President Emmanuel Macron’s plans, which include raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and increasing the total amount of years that people need to make social contributions in order to receive a full pension. On February 7th, there were mobilizations in over 200 French cities and towns. The General Confederation of Labor, or CGT, claimed close to 2 million people took to the streets, while the French Interior Ministry put the number at over 750,000 people.
Daniel Ferté, Ticket Inspector, FO Cheminot (Federation of Railway Workers): Today, in the demonstration, we will find absolutely all professional sectors that exist among workers, from steel workers to the road transporters, the railway workers, the teachers.
Maud Valegeas, Teacher, SUD Education union (Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques: All the existing professions are present today. There was a very big mobilization on January 19, and on January 31 as well, which had never gathered so many people in the streets. The mobilization we are experiencing today is historic because there is a union unity that is very large, where all the organizations call for mobilization against the pension reform project. This had not happened for 25 years, to have so many unions calling for mobilization. We have both private and public sector unions.
Brandon Jourdan [Narrator]: Public transit and railways were disrupted, fuel refineries slowed production, electricity production was decreased, and airline traffic was affected by the strikes.
Laurent Dahyot, Secretary General, CGT Air France: And today, we see that the population is coming togetherto say no to this reform.
We are fighting against this reform, but we are also fighting against harsh work conditions since we all face harsh work conditions, whether it’s on the ground or in the form of shifted hours, night work, carrying loads. For cabin crew, jet lag, toxicity in airplanes. In fact, harsh work conditions are a very important issue at Air France and working longer, it’s just not possible for all airport employees.
Brandon Jourdan [Narrator]: Farmers also joined the mass protest in Paris.
Gaëlle Cavelier, Confédération Paysanne (Confederation of Farmers): We want a retiree status for farmworkers in order to have a decent pension. Currently, the minister promises a gross pension of 1,200€, but it is only for people who contribute to the pension fund during their whole career without interruption. Few farmworkers are in that situation. There are many women farmworkers who have interrupted careers for maternity leave. There are women farmworkers who have a status of collaborating spouse, who never contribute to their retirement, who have no social status, therefore no pension. They will have zero euros.
Brandon Jourdan [Narrator]: Many school teachers also walked off the job to join the protests.
Maud Valegeas, Teacher, SUD Education union (Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques): I’m Maud Valegeas. I am a French teacher in a secondary school in Seine-Saint-Denis and I am a member of SUD Education union.
In the education sector, we were very mobilized on the 31st. There are two mobilizations this week, so it will probably be split between the two dates. But in fact, there are more and more general assemblies, meetings and there is the idea of preparing a big re-occurring strike in the education sector in the coming weeks. The private sector is also on strike, like our colleagues from PSA in Aulnay-sous-Bois.
So, the mobilization, it is very massive and there is no one sector more mobilized than another. We can see today that all the sectors are there.
Brandon Jourdan [Narrator]: Along with the mass of workers, there was a large youth contingent. Teenagers blocked high schools and at times clashed with riot police.
Teenagers blocking school chant:
Everyone hates the police! Everyone hates the police! Everyone hates the police!
Brandon Jourdan [Narrator]: The large march in Paris marched from the Opera Garnierto the Place de la Bastille.All major unions were present, along with a vibrant youth contingent, and even retired workers attending in solidarity.
Jiménez, Retired Taxi Driver: My name is Jiménez, I have been retired for a few years now and I am here to defend retirement at 60 for my children and grandchildren. Listen, the context is very simple. If the people do not mobilize, the retirement age won’t be at 64 years old, it will be pushed to 67 or even 70 maybe.
Retirement! It is ours!
We fought to win it!
We will fight to keep it!
Retirement! It is ours!
We fought to win it!
We will fight to keep it!
Brandon Jourdan [Narrator]: Small groups of people using Black Bloc tactics, committed acts of targeted property destruction against banks, corporate chains and insurance companies. Tear gas and police charges followed, often targeting anyone that happened to be in the way. Despite police aggression, the large protest pushed ahead to Bastille. As night fell, music rang out through the square, chants roared and colored flares lit up the night sky.
The nationwide strike was followed by another massive mobilization on February 11th.
The next month will prove to be a decisive battle in the ongoing fight to preserve France’s social safety net. A general strike involving all major unions is planned for March 7th, where unions are threatening ‘to bring France to a standstill’.
Daniel Ferté, Ticket Inspector, FO Cheminot (Federation of Railway Workers): And if we have to block the economy of the country, we will block it. If necessary, we will block all transportation.
Gaëlle Cavelier, Confédération Paysanne (Confederation of Farmers): A hardening of the protest would be to reach a general strike and completely block the country.
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