Workers across a wide variety of fields joined protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 years old, according to Al Jazeera. These protests were called by French trade unions, which showed a historically uncharacteristic level of unity. According to polls provided by Al Jazeera, 68 percent of people are against Macron’s planned increase in retirement age. Despite this, Macron has stated that he plans to continue to push for the bill’s passage.
The government estimated there to be 1.12 million total protestors across France on January 19 according to . The leader of the General Confederation of Labour, Philippe Martinez, estimated the number at closer to two million. The largest protest, held in Paris, is estimated to have had 400,000 attendees. Aside from 38 arrests made in the capital city, the protests were largely peaceful with French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne commending both the police and trade unions for these “good conditions,” according to BBC News.
These protests were felt across France, as trains and flights were canceled and teachers skipped school. According to CNN, SNCF, the French state rail company, saw “severe disruption,” and a number of flights out of Paris’ Orly airport were canceled. Over 65 percent of secondary school teachers and 40 percent of primary school teachers attended the protests.
Macron’s bill was formally presented on January 23, following the protests, and will go to Parliament in February, according to . Under the bill, workers will have to work for at least 43 years to be eligible for a full pension. For people who do not fulfill that condition, often students who attended university for an extended time and mothers who took time off to raise children, the retirement age will remain the same, at 67 years old. People who began working before the age of 20 would be allowed to retire earlier.
Macron’s plan aims to protect the French pension system as the ratio of people working to those in retirement increases, according to BBC News. Half a century ago, the ratio was four workers to one retiree. It now rests at 1.7 workers per retiree and is expected to continue falling. Opposition to the reform bill suggests that there are other ways to combat the impending deficit, such as raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting pensions for those who are well off.
Some protestors cite the precedent that raising the retirement age could create as their largest concern. Red Cross employee Quentin Coelho, 27, told that he disagreed with Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age. “If we do it now, the government could decide to raise it further in 30 or 50 years from now,” he said.
There is also the question of what will happen to people nearing their 60s is also one weighing on the minds of the French people. The New York Times reports that in France less than a third of the people aged 60 years old are working. This includes many people who quit their jobs with enough savings to make it to the retirement threshold at 62, but who do not have the savings to make it to the new threshold. Because of this, many labor unions have warned that raising the retirement age may in fact lead to an increase in the unemployment pool.
This is not Macron’s first attempt at raising the retirement age, reports the Associated Press. In 2019, during his first term as president, Macron proposed a similar increase to retirement age. This proposal was met with some protesting, but the talks were dropped after the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Image courtesy of Johannes Jansson, Nordic Co-operation website, Wikimedia Commons