Another wave of pension reform strikes is in the works as French unions fight back against plans to shake up the system and increase the retirement age to 64.
The 31st January strikes over proposed pension reforms to the French system have now come and gone, with union officials saying, “It was a success. The challenge is strong.”
But they were clearly not successful enough as another round of actions are being called for on 7th February.
SNCF’s main unions are supporting the planned strikes, as are unions for the mining, energy, chemical and port industries. Train strikes in particular could cause significant trouble for commuters.
The possibility of more strikes on 11th February is also being bandied, but the train unions are considering ‘calls to action’ rather than strikes, as this date coincides with the start of school holidays in some places. They fear the disruption would cause the public to turn against them, weakening their case.
International opinion on pension reform strikes
The international sentiment is general confusion over the hubbub, with journalists expressing what many are thinking privately.
“The British find it difficult to understand that the French, with their guaranteed pensions, are protesting so much for a decline from 62 to 64 years,” wrote one columnist for UK newspaper The Guardian.
In Germany, the daily Die Zeit described the standoff between the government and the unions as having “an air of déjà vu”, while in Italy, Anais Ginori, a journalist for Reppublica, wrote, “With us, the starting age is 67 so… Already when I explained during the French presidential campaign that certain candidates proposed a return to retirement at 60, it seemed lunar.”
Local impact of recent pension reform strikes
The last strikes saw SNCF train services very disrupted, with only one in five TER trains running. Nice Airport had to cancel 18 flights out of the usual 90 scheduled, and the Lignes d’Azur was “totally at a standstill”, according to Gaël Nofri, the deputy mayor of Nice and chairman of the network.
Only 21% of the teachers from the Academy of Nice took to the picket lines, down significantly from the 19th January strike where over 32% were present, and the local ski lift strike didn’t go quite as well as hoped for either. According to Frédéric Gil, the director of the Mercantour stations, Isola 2000 did not have any strikers and Auron saw only four people picketing out of roughly 150 “without consequence on service”.
Locally, police estimate that 7,000 demonstrators hit the streets, whilst Force Ouvrière, one of France’s major union confederations along with CGT and CFDT, put numbers at 25,000 to 30,000. Nationally, the Ministry of the Interior set the total number of strikers at 1.272 million. The unions claim 2.8 million. As ever in these events, the truth, no doubt, lies somewhere in-between.
A poll put out by Elabe on Wednesday showed that the public back the strikes, with two out of three approving.
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Photo by Monaco Life