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Issue #1477      20 October 2010

Millions protest “reform” in France

More than 3.5 million took to the streets throughout France last week protesting against moves to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. The protests included strikes by rail workers, bus drivers, teachers, other public workers, longshore workers and oil workers who shut down 11 of France’s 12 refineries.

The actions shut down many rail and mass transportation lines. Flights were also cancelled or delayed at many French airports causing travel delays throughout Europe. The action by longshore and oil workers raised concerns about gasoline shortages.

This was the largest protest action in France since 1995 when a month of strikes and protests forced the right-wing government of Alain Juppé to abandon similar pension reforms.

This was also the largest action so far in a month of actions against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposed pension reform. There have been four nationwide demonstrations in the last five weeks. Each bigger than the previous. The pension plan working its way through the French parliament, would also raise the minimum age to receive a full state pension from 65 to 67.

According to left and labour sources in France what distinguished last week’s actions was the growing breadth of those joining the protest. Polls show that 70 percent oppose the proposed pension law and support the protests. The actions not only saw increased union and worker participation, but it also saw mass mobilisations of women and youth. This included high school students from over 300 schools.

The Sarkozy government shows no sign of backing off. In public statements following the actions Sarkozy and several government ministers vowed to press on with the pension legislation. It is clear from French labour and left sources that the movement to stop these attacks on retirees will continue and “radicalise” as some put it.

Railway and transport workers voted to continue their strikes for an extra day while several other unions, in key sectors of the economy, decided to continue strike action indefinitely. They plan to have a day by day vote of the members. Others are organising rolling strikes.

Many governments in the developed capitalist countries, including the US, are thinking about and proposing similar attacks on pensions (in the US Social Security). Raising age requirements and cutting benefits are favourite themes of the right for shifting the economic crisis onto the backs of older workers. European and even US lawmakers are watching these developments in France. The actions of the French unions and workers will not be lost on workers facing similar attacks in their own countries.

People’s World 

Next article – Nigeria at 50: Artists and the nation

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