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Sep 23 / Elizabeth DiNovella

French Workers Say Non to Retirement Reform

French workers organized a second round of strikes on September 23 against pension reform. President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to hike the retirement age from 60 to 62; full retirement benefits would kick in at 67, instead of 65.

Sound familiar?

My friend and colleague Frank Emspak of Workers Independent News was interviewed while he was at the demonstration. It was the middle of the afternoon and the demo was in full swing. “This street is absolutely mobbed,” he said on WORT-FM. “There’s tremendous energy.”

“People are demonstrating against the government to keep their current social security arrangements. Their government is doing the same thing our government is: increasing the age and decreasing the benefits,” says Emspak.

“People here have said they are not going to take it. The government voted for the law last week. They said no one would come out. This demonstration is even bigger than the one on September 7.”

The French authorities say the protests were smaller this time, but just barely according to their own numbers: 997,000 people marched in more than 200 demonstrations, down from 1.1 million two weeks ago. Unions said 3 million people marched, up from 2.7 million.

One thing Emspak highlighted (and was largely overlooked by other mainstream press accounts) was how this reform plan really screws women.

“They’ve also changed the formula so that it emphasizes long tenure in a specific job. And most women, 75% or so, do not have that,” says Emspak. “There’s a huge uproar over that.”

Union leader Charles Pellotiere told “This legislation is not fair especially for women who have had partial careers or worked part-time. Women will be required to work until the age of 67 and thus will be penalized by the reform bill.”


People from many different occupations were out in the streets.

“We passed a group of police who said the municipal police are furious about this, as well as the railroad workers, social workers,” said Emspak. “Thousands of people from the hospitals which have also had cuts. It’s just amazing to see everybody. And what’s more amazing is that at least half the people here are young people. This is not a demonstration of old people. The young people made it very clear in my interviews that they are fighting for the future. They’re not going to take that kind of nonsense.”

Emspak added: “Hopefully on October 2, we’ll do the same thing in the United States.” He’s referring to the One Nation Working Together March in Washington D.C. on October 2. Labor, civil rights groups and hundreds of other progressive groups are sponsoring the event one month before midterm elections.

One million people marching for the “change we voted for” would be amazing to see. Sign up here.

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