France: A powerful social movement against the pension reform

The slogans popularized by the party and taken up by some demonstrators were:

  • “The youths are in slavery, the women are in precarious situations, the elderly in misery in this society; we do not want it, we fight it!”
  • “Money for wages, for pensions, not for shareholders and not to wage war!”
  • “Capitalism: crusher of lives, No to 2 more years!”
This banner, from the head of the demonstration in Strasbourg, says what these demonstrations have expressed everywhere. (Photo:

By the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Workers of France, April 2023.

Since January, a powerful workers’ and popular movement of strikes and demonstrations has shaken our country.

The 10th day of mobilization took place on Tuesday, March 28. A new one has been scheduled by the inter-unions for April 6.

How can we explain the deep and very broad rejection of this reform?

A movement that started long ago

Since the end of the COVID epidemic, more precisely since autumn 2021 and the resumption of economic activity, strike movements for wages have developed throughout the country; in large companies such as Stellantis (automobiles, formerly Peugeot), ExxonMobil, TotalEnergies, RATP (Paris transport), Sanofi (pharmaceuticals), in mass distribution, etc., but also in smaller companies and especially in subcontractors. The inflation that has developed since Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the ensuing war has only fueled these strike movements. The long electoral period (of presidential and legislative elections) that lasted from January to June 2022, had no impact on these strikes, which did not pause. But these strikes were carried out in parallel with each other, encouraging each other, but without giving rise to a generalized strike movement. Days of strikes and demonstrations called by the unions have already put many people on the streets to demand wage increases, in particular on September 29, 2022.

At the same time, the government introduced a new reform of unemployment insurance that considerably worsened the conditions of compensation. Its objective was to reduce the share of social wealth allocated to job seekers, and at the same time to force the unemployed to accept any job under the threat of eliminating their benefits and thus ensuring a workforce for the sectors of trades “in difficulty.” At the same time, a reform of vocational schools was announced, making young people from working-class backgrounds “fodder for the boss,” which has been denounced. A reform of housing rules to strengthen the rights of landlords was also enacted, particularly targeting poor families in greatly precarious conditions.

In short, there was a series of attacks against the working masses in the context of inflation further reducing real wages, and consequently also their purchasing power, while the profits of CAC 40 [a French stock market index] companies were experiencing spectacular increases (more than 52% in 2021).

January 2023: announcement by the government of the pension counter-reform

On January 10, the government presented its reform announced during its 2022 presidential campaign. This was the 8th reform since 1993!

This reform aimed to raise the legal retirement age to 64 (from the current 62). This announcement was followed by one of the unions who called for a day of strikes and demonstrations for January 19.

An unprecedented union unity

All the unions of employees and managerial staff (CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, Unsa, Solidaires, FSU) and youth organizations (Fage, Unef, Voix Lycéenne, FIDL and MNL) have united behind the slogan of rejection of pensions at 64-years and demanded the withdrawal of the reform. How can one explain that a union like the CFDT, which has always or almost always agreed to negotiate and find compromises with the government, agreed to take part in this movement? As it says on its website: “The CFDT is a union that prefers to find solutions through dialogue and negotiation.”1

If so far they all find themselves in opposition to the reform with the slogan of “No to 64 years” and the demand for the withdrawal of the reform, it is because 90% of the working population are against the postponement of the retirement age to 64 and the extension of the contribution period, as seen in official statistics.

If the very broad union unity that has been formed reflects a massive rejection of the reform, the unity of the trade union federations has in turn had a ripple effect.

How can one explain such a deep and massive rejection?

We mentioned above an accumulation of attacks against the workers carried out by successive governments for several years, and more particularly in the last period by Macron, castigated as president of the rich and the bosses. If this reform has been seen as one reform too many, it is because, above all, the living and working conditions of the working masses have deteriorated considerably in recent years. How else can one explain the slogan, “If we work two more years, we will die!” or this slogan on the placards held by many demonstrators: “You work, travel and die; No to 2 years more”?

Capitalist exploitation has been reinforced by all means, including the intensification of labor. The physical and psychological wear and tear of one’s organism means that at one point enough becomes too much. The productivity rate in France (although it has fallen since COVID due to various factors) is among the highest in the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries. Work accidents, including fatal ones, are numerous; life expectancy of those in good health has decreased. The gap between the life expectancy of a manager and a manual worker has increased from 7 to 10 years. The COVID epidemic may also have played a role in accentuating the feeling that life can abruptly disappear.

The deterioration of public services (health, education, transport, etc.), in which employees have fewer and fewer resources to carry out their missions, are discredited and badly treated, making them lose the meaning of their work since the service provided to ordinary people is constantly deteriorating. How then can they accept working 2 more years?

To this must be added the fact that in 2017 Macron eliminated 4 of the 10 criteria used for the calculation of arduousness, such as carrying heavy loads, painful postures, exposure to mechanical vibrations as well as exposure to chemical and dangerous agents (dust and fumes).

It is on the basis of this analysis, supported by what the movement showed and being concerned to raise the level of protest against the capitalist system, our party came up with and distributed thousands of copies of a sticker with the slogan: “Capitalism crushes lives; No to 2 more years!” — a sticker that has had a certain success.

Fallacious, changing and misleading arguments

In presenting their counter-reform project, the various government ministers who have succeeded one another on television and radio have used different arguments in turn and especially different lies.

Thus, the Minister of Labor said that with this reform hundreds of thousands of retirees would receive 1200 euros gross in their pensions. Looking for the details of the conditions in order to claim it, it turns out that it is not 1,800,000, as announced at the beginning, or even the 200,000 figure announced later, but only 20,000 people! This was enough to cast doubt and discredit all the other so-called benefits of this reform.

Many economists, sociologists and specialists in the world of work have shown the injustice of this reform, which will primarily penalize the most modest socio-professional categories (25% of the poorest people die before retirement) and especially women. Interrupted careers, imposed part-time jobs, precarious jobs, low wages, etc. Women either never manage to get their annuities and retirement, or when they get them they are worn out and have ridiculously small pensions.2, 3

While some people wanted to show that there were other solutions to guarantee the pay-as-you-go pension plan, including increasing employer contributions, the government immediately replied that “we could not increase the cost of labor!”

But for the vast majority of workers, there is no question of trying to show the government that there could be other alternatives to this reform. Immediately, their opponents took a position on the demand for “No to 64 years of age” and the withdrawal of the reform.

Block the economy

Faced with the government’s refusal to listen to the country’s anger, the inter-union launched the slogan of “block the economy.”

Since then, strikes have multiplied, not only during the days of national mobilization but over several days and in some sectors for weeks. The energy sector, including nuclear energy but especially refineries and fuel depots, have been blocked by pickets. RTE (the electricity transmission network), which distributes electricity to companies, public administrations as well as households, has multiplied the cuts to certain companies or public administrations while, on the other hand, it has restored power to users who were deprived of it. The railway workers of the SNCF [French National Railway Agency] also undertook strikes lasting several days. The dockers blocked the ports. Garbage collectors in Paris and other provincial towns and workers at waste incineration plants also went on strike for several weeks. These are sectors particularly targeted by the elimination of the special pension systems from which they benefit. While the country has not been blocked, activity has been severely disrupted at times and the government has begun to use forced return to work4. It cannot be denied that the level of inflation was a brake on the spreading of the strike even if financial solidarity with the strikers was very important.

The government’s passage by force: the use of Article 49.3

While the reform was under discussion in parliament, the government, wanting to move quickly, used all the measures allowed by the constitution to speed up the debate. But having no assurance that the law would obtain a majority in the National Assembly on March 15, Prime Minister E. Borne committed the government to use Article 49.3 of the constitution5, which allows it to pass a law without a vote. This was followed by the tabling of a motion of censure by one of the groups of deputies in the National Assembly. All the opposition, from the left to the extreme right as well as a third of the deputies of the right (LR – The Republicans) voted for censure; only 9 votes were lacking to bring down the government, showing its isolation.

The use of this article to pass the law against the will of the vast majority of working masses aroused immense anger and strengthened the resolve of the opponents of the reform. Spontaneously, on the night of the vote, many rallies took place throughout the country. The youth, present in a limited way until then, massively joined the movement.

Students and university staff on the streets at a recent demonstration. (Photo:

The characteristics of the movement

This movement against the pension reform has thus provoked massive opposition in France, starting with the working class.

Very large sectors of workers went on strike, some in a renewable way (the strike is voted on every day on the picket lines) or more specifically on the days called by the inter-unions. The local unions6 played an important role in helping to hold the picket lines together and organizing solidarity. Blockades of traffic circles with burning pallets and agricultural or other machinery in industrial and commercial areas. To allow those who cannot strike for financial or other reasons, some demonstrations were organized on Saturdays. Entire families were on the streets of cities on those days.

One of the particular characteristics of this movement is that it was very strong not only in large cities but also in medium-sized cities and even small towns, where sometimes more than a quarter of the inhabitants showed up at the demonstrations.

If the working class is the backbone of this movement, the other sectors of the popular masses, including certain sectors of managerial staff and engineers, are also in opposition to this reform. The retirees are aware of the importance of this achievement of retirement at age 60 which was already attacked under Sarkozy in 2010, then by the social democratic minister in the Hollande government in 2014. Teachers have been particularly battered during Macron’s first five-year term by his reactionary Minister of Education, J-M Blanquer. Health workers are exhausted by the situation of the underfunded public hospitals. The cultural milieu is always very responsive to social setbacks. Women, who are particularly harmed by this reform, are greatly present in the demonstrations. The youth, of which a militant and organized sector participated in the demonstrations from the beginning, joined the movement in a much more massive way after the government’s use of 49.3. Occupying or blocking universities and high schools, it gave energy and dynamism to the demonstrations. The police repression that followed the forced passage of the reform in parliament was another element that pushed the youth to join the movement.

The workers’ and popular social movement is not only protesting the reform but is also increasingly challenging the system as shown by the slogans on the placards carried by the demonstrators.

The work of our party

From the beginning of this movement, the Central Committee of our party sent a circular to its base organizations with the following guidelines:

– Work to broaden the union mobilization, starting where we have a base of work in the enterprises, neighborhoods and places of study.

– Strengthen the links with our trade union, women and youth contacts, integrating them into our political and trade union work in order to strengthen the movement.

– Focus on the slogan that creates unity: No to retirement at age 64, while popularizing slogans that can win the support of the broadest masses because slogans are a means of orienting the movement politically.

– In mass demonstrations, reflect on the visibility of our party’s intervention; make the name of the party and its slogans, its newspaper, etc. widely known.

The party published a leaflet for each of the major days of demonstrations, which each time were distributed in thousands of copies.

The party’s website reported very regularly on the state of the movement by synthesizing, the achievements of the movement and publishing the reports of its organizations after each of its major days.

We have already mentioned above about the sticker to widely popularize our slogan (capitalism crushes lives, etc.) developed in March to capitalize on the political advances of the movement. It was distributed in thousands of copies.

The newspaper for January, February and March was also widely distributed.

Our Party committees and cells have taken up these guidelines and the material provided to develop work in their sector, taking initiatives, with the constant concern of strengthening the Party’s links with the advanced elements of the working class and the popular masses in order to win them over to the Party and its mass organizations. Small meetings with the elements that we were able to bring together around the party during this movement began to be organized.

The position of the Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations of Europe, which gave support to the movement and our party, was also widely disseminated. It both showed that solidarity actions being taken in different countries and made the ICMLPO (International Conference of Marxist-Leninist Parties and Organizations) known.

While it is still too early to make an assessment – the movement is still ongoing – it is clear that the party as a whole has gained experience and strengthened its links with the most conscious sectors of the working class and the popular masses.

Thanks to its presence in the movement and the massive dissemination of its propaganda material, it was also able to make itself known much more widely to the workers.

Original caption from “The comrades distributed all the leaflets (more than 5,000) and the newspaper. Many demonstrators who know comrades or our newspaper, came to discuss at our fixed point.”

(1) In 2021: the CFDT became the leading union in the private sector with 26.77%, ahead of the CGT with 22.96%.

(2) Due to unemployment, illness or disability, only 19% of working women continued to work until the age of 67 to be able to benefit from a full pension without a reduction.

(3) According to INSEE in 2011, for all European Union countries, the average amount of pensions received by all women aged 65 or over, whether pensioned or not, is 47% lower than that received by their male counterparts.

(4) Forced return to work: under French law it is possible to force striking employees to return to work when disruptions resulting from a strike create a threat to public order and the return to work is necessary to prevent that threat.

(5) In order to have a bill adopted without a vote by the National Assembly, the Prime Minister may activate Article 49.3 of the Constitution. The bill is then considered adopted if a motion of censure against the Government is not voted for by the National Assembly. Conversely, if a motion of censure is passed, the Government is dismissed and the bill rejected.

(6) The local unions are the grassroots trade union organizations that bring together trade unions or union branches of enterprises in a given geographical area.

Categories: France, International, Workers Struggle

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