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France

French workers take to streets over pension reform

© Photo: AFP (file photo)

Video by Kate Moody

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-09-10

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Paris on Tuesday to protest against the government’s plans to impose new pension reforms. However, the turnout was still much lower than in past battles over retirement in France.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the on Tuesday to protest against President François Hollande’s planned pension reforms.

Four trade unions, including the hardline umbrella union CGT, had called on their members to take part in the strike, with demonstrations to be held at 180 locations across the country.

The CGT estimated that 370,000 workers, youth and retirees were at the demonstration on Tuesday, while police put the number much lower at 155,000.

Unions are angry at proposals by Hollande’s Socialist government to reform France’s heavily indebted pension system by increasing the number of years workers must make contributions to receive a full state pension from 40.5 to 43 years by 2035.

The reforms, set to be debated in parliament next month, aim to wipe out an annual deficit that will otherwise hit 20 billion euros ($26.5 billion) in 2020.

Critics say the reforms place an unfair burden on workers and unions have branded the proposals as “anti-youth”.

Protests not on same scale as 2010

But despite particularly vocal opposition to the proposals by CGT, Tuesday’s protests were not on the same scale of previous demonstrations over changes to France’s pension system, such as those seen under the government of former president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.

The 2010 protests and general strikes drew demonstrators in their millions and brought large parts of the country to a standstill.

They were triggered by an overhaul of the pension system, later partially reversed by Hollande himself, that saw the minimum retirement age in France raised from 60 to 62.

One of the reasons that demonstrations were relatively subdued this time round is that, unlike in 2010, France’s other major trade union, the CFDT, has refused to join the strikes, opting instead for a more collaborative approach with the government to obtain modifications to the proposals.

Speaking to France 2 television earlier on Tuesday, Jean-Claude Mailly, general secretary of the FO union, admitted that the day’s demonstrations were unlikely to result in a “flood” of protests like those seen in 2010.

However, he warned the government that growing discontent over pension reforms was “rumbling” beneath the surface.

These were sentiments echoed by Eric Aubin, a member of the CGT leadership, who told the AFP news agency that Tuesday’s demonstrations were only “the first mobilisation”.

“The first demonstrations in 2010 did not attract millions of workers either,” he added.

The latest polls suggest that public opinion is with the unions. More than half (56 percent) expressed support for the strikes in a Harris Interactive poll published on Monday, compared to 41 percent against, while 73 percent said they did not trust the current government to solve France’s pension issues.

Date created : 2013-09-10

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