For once French authorities and unions are in agreement on one thing – demonstrations in Paris against the country’s planned pension reform have intensified since protesters last hit the streets September 23.
According to unions, 330,000 people have come out in force against the measures in Paris, although Parisian police have estimated that the crowds topped off at 89,000. France 24 spoke with a number of participants to find out why they’re out protesting.
Kevin, 19, said he was protesting because the reform is unjust and inefficient.
“I go to high school at Melun [a Paris suburb]”, said Kevin (who declined to give his last name). “I came with friends from nearby high schools. We came with 800 people to protest in Paris with the unions against the pension reform”.
What worries Kevin most about the pension reform is the prospect of “working longer, until I'm 67”. Kevin hopes to study law after graduating from high school this year, and is aware that his professional future will “no doubt be easier than others’”.
Kevin also came to protest in Paris Tuesday out of solidarity for those whose “future is uncertain and who might be obligated to work on more than one job”.
Not far away, at Maubert Square in the 5th district, a small group of women rallying for lesbian rights gathered before a banner fixed onto a bus shelter.
, stood among them. The 47-year-old writer had come to protest
against what she considered to be the unfair treatment of lesbians.
“Socially speaking, women are oppressed”, Cécile said. “And because they’re not included as part of the institution of marriage, they suffer even more when it comes to retirement because they’re often isolated”.
On the Sully bridge that straddles the Seine, Christophe (who declined to give his last name), a protester in his
forties, stood watching the crowds wearing a sweatshirt plastered with political stickers from the New Anti-capitalist Party (in French, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste or NPA).
“I carry out manual work,” he said. “The medical numbers speak for themselves: 40 percent of blue-collar workers die before the age of 65”.
Christophe, who works in printing, said he is “in contact with toxic materials, which he breathes every day”, and hopes to be able to benefit from retirement as much as anybody else. “The worst of inequalities is life expectancy. We die younger, we should be able to retire younger!”
Christophe said he didn’t want to meet the same end as his grandfather, a bricklayer who died from Potter’s rot (or silicosis, a lung disease), or his father, also a blue-collar worker who was forced to stop working at 55 for health reasons.
A few metres from Bastille, a heavy cloud of smoke issued out of a small truck transformed
into a hotdog shack. The counter was manned by a white-haired man named Stéphane, who chatted with protesters while keeping an eye on the onions and sausages cooking on the grill.
Even though Stéphane did not take part in the demonstrations, he said he was “always there to support the protesters”. However, he insisted jokingly, “this time, there’s a lot more people [than the last two times], but they’re stingy. They don’t eat anymore and they don’t drink anymore, so one tightens his belt”.
Stéphane said he isn’t worried about his pension. At 74, he receives between 1,100 and 1,200 euros per month, “with perks”. However, his rent has continued to rise, so Stéphane needs to work.
“I’m worried for the young people, but not for me”, he said. “I’ve only got two or three years left to live anyway. Or maybe just two or three minutes, who knows?”