The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

French workers respond to attacks on the pension system

May 26, 2003

The French government is carrying out an attack on the national pension system reminiscent of the one being carried out by the U.S. government on Social Security and Medicare today. Proclaiming a possible future deficit in Social Security, even though there is no deficit now and according to official studies there won't be a deficit for 20 years, the French government is moving to "reform" the system.

The first aim of this "reform" is to lower what French employers contribute to Social Security. In order to do this, the government has proposed to increase the number of years government workers must have for a full pension to 40 years, bringing them up to the private sector. Following this, it wants to increase the years of work to 42. And it is proposing to reduce pension payments to all workers.

This is not the first time the government has tried such an attack on workers' pensions. At the end of 1995 the government tried something similar. The result were massive strikes by many public sector workers that lasted for some time and steadily grew in numbers. Workers mobilized around the slogan "All together." They were successful in beating off the attack on their pensions, but now the government is trying the attack once more.

The big union federations called for a one day strike against the government's plan on May 13. The strikes and demonstrations on that day were a success. There were over a million demonstrators around the country, showing the workers' anger against the attacks on pensions. Over 100,000 demonstrated in Paris and a similar number in the big city of Marseilles. There were other demonstrations in various sized cities across the country. Public sector workers were particularly important, including teachers, railroad, transit and postal workers. But many workers from the private sector also demonstrated from some of the biggest companies, which was important because it went counter to the government's attempts to divide the public from the private sector workers. Workers could measure the force that they represented in the country and it encouraged those who want to continue the struggle.

After May 13 some sectors stayed on strike. On May 19 there were more demonstrations, particularly of teachers, but also of many postal workers, Bank of France employees and hospital workers. There were work stoppages in the post office and the phone company and of transit workers in various cities. Another demonstration is called for May 25.