From Paris to the quiet village of Ferney-Voltaire, where PSI is headquartered, the chants of protesters outraged at the French President’s pension reforms have been resounding for months. PSI affiliate members in CFDT, FO and CGT are at the forefront of these protest actions.
Sarkozy has long been spreading the myth that good social welfare is unaffordable in a global economy. The French, it seems, are no longer buying into that. Taking to the streets in millions, they have demonstrated a lack of confidence in their national leader. But he’s also got the facts against him.
The French can afford the retirement age of 60-65 years. Although the demographic make-up of most Western countries is slowly changing towards more elderly populations, productivity and GDP also increase over time. The increase in life expectancy is small compared to the decline in the number of workers per retiree.
To the plain facts of numbers, add that an increase in the retirement age will hit the poorest—who have the shortest life expectancies—the hardest. The really rich, of course, don’t rely on the public pension system anyway.
The continued French mass mobilisations show that people realize the injustice of this. All over Europe, workers demand a change in European economic policies, but not the change the European Commission is prescribing.
Economics professor Michael Hudson describes the protests as a sane reaction to European governments about to commit economic suicide. Noting the conflict of interests between labour and capital, he describes a crucial crossroads: “At issue are proposals to drastically change the laws and structures of how European society will function for the next generation. If the anti-labor forces succeed, they will break up Europe, destroy the internal market, and render that continent a backwater.” (Who Wins?)
The EU Commission’s arrogant reaction to the mass protests organised across Europe on 29 September was to introduce on the same day a set of new economic sanctions against countries who do not comply with the required reductions in their national deficits. However, the message from the streets of Brussels, Madrid, Athens, London, Riga and Paris cannot be ignored. Enough is enough. It’s time for governments to adjust their course. To this end, they need to involve the trade unions, be it through collective bargaining or other relevant social dialogue mechanisms.