Protests continue against retirement age hike in France

By Jonathan Silberman
April 24, 2023

AMIENS, France — Thousands of workers in this small city in northern France took to the streets as part of a nationwide day of work stoppages and demonstrations April 6. More than 130 protests were held around the country, involving hundreds of thousands. It was the 11th day of actions called by trade union federations against the government of President Emmanuel Macron’s imposition of a new law raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Macron’s decree will go before the Constitutional Council April 14. The unions have called another action the day before. Previous strikes have involved largely workers in the public sector.

“If the government is successful, the employers will redouble their efforts in attacking wages, conditions and rights,” health-center worker Michael Cauwet told the Militant.

“The attack on pensions will increase competition for jobs,” said Safia Ouabaio, one of 200 students from the university in Amiens on the march. Youth unemployment in France is already more than 17%.

“In rural Friville-Escarbotin, population under 5,000, the last protest was joined by 1,000,” Kevin Crepin, general secretary of the department of Somme’s Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT) union federation, told the Militant.

“We are not dogs,” read a sign outside the MetEx factory here where members of the Confederation Francaise Democratique du Travail (CFTD) are on strike. Bosses at the company, which makes amino acids, are demanding cuts to wages, benefits and rest days for older workers.

In addition to raising the retirement age, Macron is increasing the number of years someone has to work in order to receive the full state pension, from 42 to 43. This hits women who take time out from work to raise a family, and recently arrived immigrants.

Some demonstrators said they support holding a referendum on Macron’s law, a proposal touted by parties on the left of capitalist politics. But this “would only serve to demobilize the union actions that must continue to be the backbone of the fight,” Crepin said.

Joining the protest was Pete Clifford, a rail worker from the U.K. and Communist League candidate for Manchester City Council. He brought solidarity from the Manchester South branch of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union.

“King Charles didn’t come but you have,” Bryan Duval told Clifford, referring to the cancellation — because of the pension protests — of a visit to France by the British monarch. The rulers in France and the U.K. “pursue their own class interests internationally,” Clifford said. “Workers must pursue ours, too.”

Duval was on the march with his son, Nicolas, both CGT members at the local Mersen electronics plant. “The factory of 300 is running today, but we come with the backing of workers there,” he said. “Workers see that the problem is more than the pension reforms.”

Clifford was welcomed by Christophe Lecomte, a secretary of the CGT rail workers union in Amiens.

“Rail workers across the U.K. have held 18 days of work stoppages,” Clifford told Lecomte. “Other workers have taken action too, including nurses for the first time in 106 years! The focus may be different from France’s but the challenge is the same: How to keep expanding the numbers involved in the union actions.”

Countless protesters took photos of Clifford’s solidarity sign. An article on his participation was run in the Courrier Picard newspaper.

Clifford found interest in the protest march from co-workers on his return to Manchester. “CGT rail workers joined our picket in Manchester last August,” said Clayton Clive, secretary of Manchester South RMT union branch. “It’s important we give them solidarity.”

“Just like here the fight is on for building the actions,” Clifford said.