Pensions: have strikes already bent the government?
The main French unions are calling for a “strong long-term mobilization” to protest against the pension reform from Thursday 19 January. A mode of action that has led to contradictory results in the past.
1953: A summer strike surprises the government
It is a little-known episode in French social history. In 1953, under the Fourth Republic, the National Assembly gave the President of the Council Joseph Laniel (CNIP, right) the ability to rule for three months by decree-law — the same as the ordinances in the Fifth Republic.
In a logic of fiscal discipline, the executive is implementing a reform of public sector pensions. Flattening of the special regulations, lowering of the retirement age by two years… Joseph Laniel wants to use the paid vacation in August to decide on drastic measures.
And that without counting on the massive mobilization of officials. PTT, SNCF, EDF, RATP, hospitals, Air France… At the call of the trade unions (FO, CFTC, CGT) and to the great surprise of the government, more than four million workers are gradually striking, paralyzing the country.
Joseph Laniel’s government retaliated by requisitioning the strikers, but had to back down in the face of public opinion, which was massively supportive of their local agents. After negotiations with the unions, the decrees are finally buried.
1995: Officials have Alain Juppé bend down
In November 1995, under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Alain Juppé presented a social security restructuring plan which also envisaged aligning the pension systems of civil servants and public companies with the pension systems of private employees.
From November 24, officials began a multi-week strike that brought trains, buses and subways to a standstill. The CGT is at the forefront of the protest, with Bernard Thibault, general secretary of the union’s railway arm, as its flagship. Nicole Notat’s CFDT is the only major headquarters supporting most of the Juppé plan.
On December 12, more than two million people demonstrated across France, the largest mobilization since May 1968. The government gave way three days later, on December 15. Alain Juppé is withdrawing his pension reform but sticking to his social security measures.
2003 and 2010: The government is holding on
The 2003 pension reform sponsored by François Fillon (Social Affairs Minister in Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s government) will also bring the French onto the streets. On May 13, more than a million people demonstrated against the gradual increase in the contribution period and the harmonization of civil servant pensions with those of the private sector. Despite a strong mobilization in the transport sector, in the postal service and in the national education system, the law was finally passed on July 24th.
In 2010, it was the reform of Eric Woerth, labor minister in the Fillon government, that angered unions, including the CFDT. The law, which notably provides for an increase in the statutory retirement age from 60 to 62, is approved despite the fact that more than a million French people took to the streets on October 12th.
2019-2020: Covid-19 ends the debates
SNCF, RATP, teachers, lawyers, refineries… and even the Paris Opera. A year after the “yellow vests”, the pension reform project promised by Emmanuel Macron triggered a large social movement at the end of 2019.
According to the text presented by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, the universal point system would apply from the 1975 generation, even that of 1980 or 1985 for certain officials and agents of special regimes. A bonus-malus system would encourage longer working hours with an “equilibrium age” set at 64 in 2027. This “key age” tilts the CFDT into the camp of the opponents.
Concessions are granted for a dozen professions (police, pilots, etc.) and Edouard Philippe finally says he is “ready to retire” under certain conditions, the key age of 64.
While enjoying a comfortable majority in the assembly, the prime minister, with 49.3, is campaigning to cut the 41,000 amendments tabled by the opposition. The text will be adopted on March 3, but two weeks later France is restricted due to the Covid-19 epidemic that will nullify the reform.