Pension reform in France: students for and against the strikes speak out
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We have put together a team of Observers to cover the ongoing protests in France against a hotly debated pension reform bill. As the strikes go on, affecting transport, schools, postal services and petrol refineries, activists both in favour of and against the law have sent us their reports and photos.
High school students block the entrance of the Lycee Buffon, in the 15th arrondissement of Paris.
We have put together a team of Observers to cover the ongoing protests in France against a hotly debated pension reform bill. As the strikes go on, affecting transport, schools, postal services and petrol refineries, student mobilization is viewed as a crucial factor that could tip the balance of the negociations. Student activists both in favour of and against the law have sent us their reports and photos.
Whether you are a trade unionist, secondary school pupil, retiree, or an activist for or against the strikes, do you have photos, videos or stories to share? Contact us at email@example.com.
'There is hardly anyone at the general assemblies'
Jean-Baptiste Mandron, 23, is a communications student in Lyon and an activist for a right-wing student union (UNI).
I don’t think the protest movement is very widespread. There is hardly anyone at the general assembly meetings. In Lyon II university, there were only 80 participants for 27,000 students. Only a few left-wing colleges like Rennes II are blocked.
Young people are entitled to get together and protest, of course. But they shouldn’t let themselves be manipulated by politicians like Ségolène Royal who has called upon youths to join street protests [Royal has denied these reports, saying she was warning teenagers to ‘protest responsibly']. Everyone knows that gangs often show up at the protests to make trouble. Also, many teachers encourage their students to block schools so they themselves can protest without taking unpaid days off for strikes. All this movement will do is wreck the start of the school year for thousands of students.
The pension system urgently needs to be reformed – if nothing changes, who will pay? Us! The young generation! The opposition are using the protests to serve their electoral agenda – but by opposing reform they are sacrificing a generation! This reform is the fairest and most generous it can be in times of crisis.
I keep hearing parallels with the massive strikes of 1995 or the 2006 anti-CPE movement. Except that the CPE [employment initiative] was a misunderstood law that wasn’t that important, while the pension reform is absolutely vital. It’s urgent that we act now, otherwise it will be a disaster for future generations."
Littered streets after protests. Photo posted on Twitpic by Anne Laure Blin.
A Velib' [Paris rental bike] with a "Stop the strike" sign on it which reads "The strikes make me pedal into a sweat"! Many Parisians turn to bicycles during strikes due to lack of public transport.
'We are going to make Sarkozy give in, even if the law has already been voted on'
Hugo Baillet, 23, is a student at the Sorbonne Paris I and an activist for the Movement of Young Socialists (MJS)
This mobilisation took a while to get off the ground. We had to start raising awareness in high schools first, and the school year in universities has only just begun. The government planned it that way: the Senate had to vote in Article 5 of the law before the other articles to pass the reform before the start of universities. The opposition movement is taking hold slowly, and the general assemblies are leaning more and more towards blockades.
Right-wing politicians say: “You’re young, why are you already thinking of retirement?” We consider this to be a young person’s problem. Every time I come to a high school, I explain the same thing to them: right now, a young person gets his first permanent job contract (CDI) on average at the age of 27. If you calculate 41.5 years of paying into an annual pension, it means you would have to wait a minimum of 68 years before leaving with a pension that would support my generation! Our generation is being sacrificed and humiliated. The government is really taking advantage of us. Besides, Eric Woerth [the French labour minister] said it: he made this reform for young people. Our response to him is: “Figure out a way to get people to work earlier than 27, rather than forcing old people to work beyond the age of 65.”
We have a warning for Eric Woerth and Nicolas Sarkozy: we’re preparing a mishmash of the big strikes of 1995 and the 2006. It’s rare and noteworthy that young people from all different channels of the opposition have come together under the collective slogan “Retirement: Young people’s business.” Socialists, Greens, communists…We stand united.
Look out for what will happen in the coming days. Petrol refineries are closing, and though the government assures the public that France has two weeks of reserves, they forget that lorry drivers are also on strike."
High school students protest in Paris on October 7. Photo by Hugo Baillet.
Post written with Paul Larrouturou, journalist.