Another people’s revolt in France

Macron’s pension raid has sparked mass unrest.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Staff writer

Topics Politics World

France is once again in revolt. This time, it is experiencing the longest strike movement since 1968. French rail workers have been particularly active, bringing the transport system to a halt with the longest continuous rail strike since the founding of the national rail network in 1938. Four days of mass protest to accompany the strikes began last Thursday with 450,000 marchers, according to the unions. Around 150,000 took to the streets in Paris on Saturday.

At the heart of the row is President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed reforms to the pension system. Unions say that the government’s plan to streamline the system would leave workers working longer for less. Under pressure from the strikers, the government has already rowed back on its plan to introduce a ‘pivot age’ at 64 (an age at which you can start withdrawing a full pension), which would effectively create a new, later retirement age.

Unlike other forms of welfare, pensions touch on almost everyone in society. And so the backlash has come from all wings of society, too – far bigger than the crowds that the more militant unions can usually summon on their own. According to polling in Le Figaro, one month into the strikes, 61 per cent of the French public think the ongoing strikes are justified. Over €2million has been raised by crowdfunding for a strike fund.

Lawyers have occupied courthouses across the country, staging sit-ins and throwing off their robes. Firefighters have sprayed foam over the town hall in Le Havre, where Macron’s prime minister, Édouard Philippe, served as mayor. Over a third of teachers walked out last Thursday. The Paris Opera has provided perhaps the most surreal backdrop to the protests, as striking musicians and ballerinas have given free performances to the gathered masses.

The pension dispute also touches on a much deeper sore. It represents the final nail in the coffin of the postwar settlement. Macron and his supporters lament the ‘complexity’ of the pension system, which has around 42 different schemes with varying levels of remuneration, state involvement and even different retirement ages. (The French rail workers’ pension scheme allows for retirement at 52, but this is exceptional.) Another issue is the large deficit, which the government claims could reach more than €17 billion by 2025.

Simplifying all pensions into a one-size-fits-all package allows the reforms to be sold as more modern and fair. But the real reason these schemes are so fiendishly complex is that their terms and conditions have been shaped by disputes and struggles over time. To wipe so much of that away is to deny French workers their social inheritance. The compromises that arose from decades of struggles between labour and capital are being decisively swept aside.

The idea that ordinary people should be able to expect stable jobs with decent wages, a good work-life balance, and a reasonable standard of living in retirement, is now depicted as old-fashioned. Instead, in the name of modernisation, reform and flexibility, working people are told to lower their expectations. They should work longer and more unsociable hours in less stable jobs with fewer entitlements. They should expect their work to earn an ever-dwindling share of the national wealth. And they should be grateful for the opportunity to do so. ‘You may speak very freely, but the one thing you have no right to do is complain’, Macron once told a group of pensioners, who were angry about an earlier raid of their pension pots.

Of course, the pension strikes are by no means the first mass rebellion against Macron’s vision for France. The gilets jaunes began their weekly protests over a year ago. And just as with the yellow vests, the police response to the pension strikes has been brutal. Officers have been filmed firing rubber bullets at point-blank range. Teargas has been fired with reckless abandon. Violent repression is the order of the day under Macron’s ‘liberalising’ regime.

French workers are defending their living standards against a ruthless establishment. They deserve our solidarity.

Fraser Myers is a staff writer at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


botalap botalap

21st January 2020 at 4:11 pm

Make $1000 a day with

Forlorn Dream

15th January 2020 at 7:00 pm

The French revolution seems to have come full circle. I wonder when they’re going to storm the Bastille and set up a guillotine.

John Winward

15th January 2020 at 11:56 am

Although the événements of the last few months have beeen mostly studiously ignored by the main UK press, little Owen Jones did weigh in how shocked he was to learn that pensioners in France may receive as little as 1,000 Euros a month.

A Henson

14th January 2020 at 9:29 pm

Is this a problem made worse by a common currency. The pensions need reform because the country can’t afford them (if we take the argument at face value). That would mean , without the Euro, that the long term value of the Franc would weaken. Eventually, with the politicians ignoring the issue, the Franc would decline, pensions would be cheaper, wages would be lowered and no one would be motivated to go on strike or take drastic action.
But with the Euro reflecting a price, and future price, that is not based on the French economy then the only way to settle the Pension shortfall is painful.

Gareth Edward KING

14th January 2020 at 1:54 pm

God I love the French! What is it in their national character that makes them so apparently radical? It’s a wonder they ever joined the Common Market-EEC-EU! Bring on next year’s General Election! Emperor Macron can’t possibly win again! Visca el Frexit! (Pardon my Catalonian!).

christopher barnard

14th January 2020 at 1:35 pm

So what is the people’s answer to the fact they are all living longer and getting lots of expensive medical conditions in old age?

Amanda Purdy

17th January 2020 at 9:29 pm

I agree. I generally hate using the green catch phrase “sustainability” but they need sensible reform that takes account of the fact that many (not all) have a longer working life and can go on earning into late 60s. A top heavy age demographic could bankrupt a country like France with its sluggish economy.

jan mozelewski

14th January 2020 at 12:40 pm

I agree with the vast bulk of this piece. The whole raid on pensions….for this is yet another example….and the attitude of Macron is redolent with the stench of the Globalists. It is part of the rise of promoting and glorifying the ‘us and them’ that generations fought to hard to dismantle.
The politicians in France who sound out most about the people wanting too much are universally the same politicians who have their snouts well rooted in the trough. It’s that ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ theme we keep coming across , and they are ever more bare-faced and brazen about it.
That is what lights the blue touch-paper of people’s resentment. The hypocrisy.
Brits need to beware judging the French people as unrealistic in their aims. As if they are merely greedy and difficult and want too much. (That was the narrative used against the Greek people and, as ever, it was grossly simplistic and inaccurate .)
By and large, pay in France is much lower than in the UK for comparable jobs and professions. The proportion of pay deducted for tax and ‘social charges’ (an approximation of National Insurance) is much larger than in the UK. I don’t think the average Brit can have any comprehension of just how massive the tax burden is and how far-reaching it is. (Tax is very high on fuel/heating for example.)
Most people I know in France have accepted poor prospects for advancement, low pay with no possibility of over-time, and the large proportion of their income taken at source, because the deal was that they would at least have a pension. Not a particularly generous one at that.
This is simply another manifestation of the Globalists getting richer while they screw the people.

cliff resnick

14th January 2020 at 1:32 pm

The problem I would have thought is mainly due relative economic decline, if the east Asia is producing goods we need and pay for then that’s a transfer of wealth from west to east. The conclusion we have come to in the UK is that neither socialism or EU protectionism is the answer.
If this European and American problem is ever resolved in the foreseeable future, it will unlikely be down to grand schemes but more probably to open markets. As it is, if the French economy is not sustainable, more of the same is not the answer, maybe France is nearing an economic crossroad where radical changes might be the only answer to economic decline
As to the elites getting richer at the expense of the rest of us, I expect if you did some number crunching my guess is that money would not reach the edges

Brandy Cluster

15th January 2020 at 6:12 am

I love reading this site and the comments of many of you people. I’m from Australia and we are not in economic decline; this makes it easier for the UK, the USA and Europe to scream at us about ‘climate change’ (our measly 1.3%). I’ve always regarded these ravings as borne of jealousy because of our high standard of living. How dare we?

I agree with you that decline is part of the problem for France; that and unfettered immigration and social welfare. A friend of my son lived in Bordeaux and made wine. His partner threw him out and disabused him of the notion that he was a fit and proper father (which he was!!). He became depressed, went on anti-depressants and was ferried about by taxi in France at public expense because ‘when you’re on this medication you cannot drive; the taxpayer will meet the tab”. We couldn’t believe it!! Suffice to say he returned home to Australia without his children, leaving his wine business to the mercy of his wife and seldom sees his children (of course).

It was a sobering lesson in French social security.


14th January 2020 at 5:38 pm

Jan, I find your comments on France of interest as they seem to be well informed. But isn’t the problem that the French social model just does not work any more? That may be lamentable, especially for the French themselves, but in the end people have to face up to reality. (Incidentally, I have no wish to be thought a champion of Macron. He strikes me as about the worst sort of ‘entitled governing class’ elitist.)

And how big is the black economy in France? I ask because about 30 years ago I employed a Dane who was quite amazed when I had a van’s engine rebuilt by a small garage, legitimately and through the books. He (and he knew something of business in Denmark) said that in Denmark the self-employed either did that sort of things for themselves or through the black market. There was no alternative if you wanted to stay in business.

jan mozelewski

14th January 2020 at 6:54 pm

There is a big Black Economy in France. Just like Denmark, tax is such a high proportion of any bill. It makes things uneconomic….and then of course the little businesses like local garages totally fleece the people who DO use them in order to make up for it all and put something through the books. The whole system breeds dishonesty. So in the end it is better to get someone you know to do the job on the QT.
The only way you can really make a living in France is by fiddling the books or doing stuff on the black. It is a game of cat and mouse….even car boot sales are monitored by officials who need your ID, address etc because if you do more than two a year you are taxed as a professional trader and can face up to 10k fine. Bonkers. All it does is stifle enterprise.
So basically the system has been fooked for years. Basically I think France is bankrupt. Without the common agricultural policy and all the attendant props it gives (we know a farmer who regularly rips out hedges so be can get subsidies for putting them back in) the rural economy would be Third World.
Many ex-pats here sing a Remainer song. But that type live on money made in the UK, do not pay tax here and go back to Blighty every time they want to buy anything. Of course, not paying in to the French system makes them feel vulnerable (and rightly so) in the new reality.


14th January 2020 at 8:20 pm

Thanks for getting back to me Jan. A friend of mine has a son who lives and works in France. (Small rural town, not sure where.) He’s apparently happily married with two pleasant bi-lingual children, altogether everything positive. But:

1 While he’s doing well as a self-employed electrician the one thing he will not do is take on an employee. (Having been an employer myself I sympathise with that.) 2 (And this is the bit I find weird) whenever he needs to stock up on switches and other components he bring his van across to England and loads up. Apparently even in the days of the internet and online ordering etc a great deal of what he needs is simply too expensive in France. I really can’t understand that. I thought we were supposed to be in a ‘Single Market’.

Brandy Cluster

15th January 2020 at 6:14 am

Good old socialism!! It always has a use-by date and is generally destroyed in nations which amass huge debt. I’m sorry to learn about the inevitable decline of a one-great nation, France. To be honest, I don’t ever want to visit there again.

mathias broucek

14th January 2020 at 11:04 am

“French workers are defending their living standards against a ruthless establishment. They deserve our solidarity”

No, they are trying to retain a pensions settlement that was developed when life expectancy was much, much lower and is now not affordable.

Michael Lynch

14th January 2020 at 11:59 am

Typical response from a greedy, self-entitled, grasping Millennial. I don’t want to spend a lifetime carefully accruing a nest egg for my old age. I want it all now and I don’t mind robbing off the old and vulnerable. Despicable attitude.

jan mozelewski

14th January 2020 at 12:44 pm

That is simplistic. These people have had huge deductions taken from them over the years. It seems to me that EU and French political/civil service hangers-on get money for nothing and swim in lard with no accountability.

Gareth Edward KING

14th January 2020 at 2:15 pm

Jan, As you seem to be writing from France, perhaps, I could ask you to make up for the media black-out in neighbouring Spain. El País simply does not report on anything remotely ‘populist’ in France, it’s totally pro-Macron. I’ve stopped buying it! How, for example, could you explain the anti-social behaviour on New Year’s Eve (which was reported on in Spiked)? Was there an important Islamic element? Madrid doesn’t seem to have problems of that type at all. It must be the efficiency that the Spanish police forces have earned over the years in their control of ETA.

Brandy Cluster

15th January 2020 at 6:15 am

Yes. Don’t you get the distinct impression the people are being expected to eat cake?

Jonathan Yonge

14th January 2020 at 10:47 am

La Belle France, une énigme…
Beautiful country, highly intelligent people, mellifluous language, deep philosophical culture.
High intelligence in France is as to wealth in the US or nobility in England.
All the checkout staff look like intellectuals.
At the French course at L’alliance française you are told how logical underlies the language throughout.
And yet….above it all Marianne holds sway.

Ven Oods

14th January 2020 at 5:07 pm

“All the checkout staff look like intellectuals.”
I’m betting they’re deeply disappointed intellectuals, then.

jan mozelewski

14th January 2020 at 7:07 pm

You clearly haven’t visited any of my local supermarkets…E Lecerc, Carrefour etc. And as for the language…it isn’t at all mellifluous when spoken in harsh Norman patois. lol
As for it being logical. Nope to that as well. Lots of illogical aspects to French. It creaks under out-dated 19th century verbage, hence the young people using slang and English to pepper their conversations.
I know all the old hackneyed truisms about the French backwards. The women don’t get fat and are always stylish and chic. (chortle) They all adore culture. (nope, most of them adore gambling, smoking, drinking and playing bingo etc) They eat proper food and not junk food. (Biggest myth of all.) Next you will be saying that french food is always wonderful. (It is largely dreadful, unimaginative and boring , very little of it cooked on the premises and expensive to boot.)
Like every country it is a mix. But i have to say, in the last 18 years the standard of living has dropped considerably in almost every facet of life.

Brandy Cluster

15th January 2020 at 6:17 am

This is romance right out of la belle epoch!! I find the French self-absorbed and arrogant.

Chris Stapleton

14th January 2020 at 10:23 am

“To wipe so much of that away is to deny French workers their social inheritance.” No such niceties in the UK when the retirement age is increased – just like that to pay for the mismangement of the economy, with only the feminist orhestrated GRASPIES complaining.


14th January 2020 at 10:20 am

This is what happens when politicians make long term promises for short term gains. The French state, thanks to the EURO and EU (German) economic policies, can no longer afford either the complexity or the largess it has created. France under EU must reign in its budget and, French workers, must accept worse terms. eg. Less money and longer hours. But notice that these striking workers mentioned are State Workers, of which France has rather a lot.

The French Cockerel, it seems, is coming home to roost.

eli Bastenbury

14th January 2020 at 10:59 am

That’s right, France needs a Thatcher. It won’t happen though.

Anthony Holland

14th January 2020 at 9:37 am

Much as I sympathise with the French, this row has been brewing for years. The maths never worked and now they are paying the price. Rising inactive population + years of socialist government expansion of public sector + lower tax base from those in work = huge shortfall in pension payouts. Any 12 year old could do the math on this. The French need to suck it up and join the real world. This will get Marine Le Pen elected next time round because the social contract is all the mainstream had to counter nationalism with.

jan mozelewski

14th January 2020 at 12:49 pm

I disagree. Massive amounts of tax euros are wasted each year on vanity projects the people neither want nor need. The tax burden in France falls squarely on the shoulders of the working poor and is massive. Your maths is not accurate. Sorry.
Marine Le pen will get in next time….but not for the reason your state.

Hilda PKoehler

14th January 2020 at 8:32 am


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