Workers and their unions in France are mounting a major battle to protect quality pensions. French President Macron has bypassed the lower chamber of parliament to push through a sweeping reform. It notably extends the minimum number of years worked to obtain the full pension to 43, one of the highest in the EU.
On 1 May, UNI Europa joined the trade union movement of France for a mass demonstration through the streets of Paris. The action united all union confederations of France. We caught up with William Maunier, President of UNI Europa Media, Entertainment and Arts. He explained how people working in broadcasting, film and live performance are involved in the struggle fair pensions and the impact of the reform in the cultural sectors.
For workers in the cultural sectors, what is the impact of the reform proposed by the government?
WM: The impact of the reform is considerable. Those in already more vulnerable situations are hit hardest: the most precarious and those who already have non-uniform careers, many of them women, with short permanent contracts and careers that are often prematurely interrupted. This is the case for a large proportion of workers in the culture, entertainment, media and arts sector.
The strong backlash from workers and their unions is making waves internationally. From abroad, the most visible are the national demonstrations. Are there also activities at the workplace level?
WM: The protest against the Macron reform is deep and has manifested itself at the level of each company by massive cumulative strike rates, including in sectors where protest is usually less visible, such as small and medium-sized private companies. 70% of French people and 95% of workers reject this reform.
How do you explain the extent of the reaction?
WM: The retirement age was a red line that all the unions had set for the government. This reform, according to most experts, was not necessary. Unions have made proposals concerning pension financing, such as tackling the very high level of unemployment among seniors (more than 40% of 55 to 64 year olds are unemployed); or equal pay between women and men, which is still very important in France, and which would have contributed to increasing revenue. In addition to the anti-social nature of the content of this reform, the government, after a pseudo consultation – which was not a negotiation since it refused to discuss the postponement of the age – decided to force its way through by bypassing the National Assembly, where it did not have a majority, in order to pass its reform. It did so by using the 49.3, an article of the French constitution never used in such a context and constituting a real provocation. This denial of democracy provoked even more anger among working people who are the main victims of this reform.
The French model, with its very low rate of poverty among retirees, is an example for many countries. Is there a European dimension to this struggle?
WM: There is a European dimension to this struggle because it is part of a more global attack which we are seeing just about everywhere in Europe. It is an attack on workers’ rights, their social protections and collective agreements. It results in a distribution of the value produced that is increasingly skewed to favour capital at the expense of labour. This is why French workers have received so much support from fellow European workers and their trade unions.
Now that the government has forced the adoption of this law by bypassing the national assembly, how will the trade union movement react?
WM: The trade union movement is united; we will continue the struggle until the withdrawal of this anti-social reform, through protest and mobilisation within companies and in the streets.
In Paris. @UNI_Europa & @etuc_ces & many other European unions joins 1st May demonstration here. For workers’ having a say: on pension age & working conditions. Solidarity with French unions& workers. The people say stop to Macron – here & across Europe. pic.twitter.com/rfCm2P7sRZ
— Oliver Roethig (@ORoethig) May 1, 2023