A country-wide General Strike has hit France. On 5th December 2019, the first day of the indefinite strike, 800,000 workers are reported to have marched on the streets of Paris. All schools were closed and all public transport came to a standstill from 5th to11th December.
The strike was called by the biggest trade union federations of the country against a proposed “Pension Reform” program. In the name of reforming the pension system in France, rights won by workers through long years of struggle are being attacked. The present government headed by President Macron is trying to prove to the capitalist class that it is better than the previous government, which had tried to implement the same “pension reform” five years ago but backed off in the face of mass resistance by workers’ unions.
Numerous pension schemes are operating in France, with rules specific to the working conditions in different sectors. While government employees retire at the age of 62, railway workers have a much lower retirement age. Train drivers, for instance, retire at the age of 50. As a result of long years of struggle, the railway workers won their right to start drawing their monthly pension soon after retirement. The government’s proposed “universal pension” program will do away with this right. This is but one example of how hard won rights of workers are being attacked in the name of simplifying and universalizing the pension system.
The proposed new program would be based on a uniform rule by which all workers can start receiving their full pension only when they are 64 years old.
Simplification is not the real aim underlying the so-called Pension Reform program being pursued by the Government of France. The real aim is to convert pensions into a profitable business for monopoly finance capitalists. The real aim is to convert funds meant for workers’ retirement benefits into sources of maximum private profit.
The disastrous effects of subjecting workers’ retirement funds to “market risk” were exposed by the worldwide crisis of 2008-09. That crisis led to millions of workers in the United States and some European countries losing a large part of their hard-earned pensions.
The widespread participation of workers from diverse sectors in the General Strike in France is a sign of sharpening class contradictions. It shows that the working class is not willing to give up its hard won rights and accept so-called reforms aimed at fulfilling monopoly capitalist greed.