What began as a protest against pension cuts in France has turned into a social movement for a more equitable and just society.
On Thursday, two million people across France participated in 270 demonstrations to protest the new pension law enacted earlier this week by the French parliament.
This was the seventh demonstration against the pension cuts since September. Such a large turnout shows that a lot of people want to continue the fight against the cuts and expand it into a broader movement for social justice.
“The movement is not weakened,” read one of the signs carried by a protestor in Aurillac in central France.
The government’s plan to cut pensions for all French workers, which it calls “pension reform,” raises the age at which workers can draw a full pension by two years, thus reducing the amount of money that retired workers will make after retirement.
The new law will raise the age of retirement with full benefits from 60 to 62 for some workers and from 65 to 67 for others.
French president Sarkozy says that the pension cuts are essential because people are living longer, but people fighting the cuts view them as an attack on hard-won social benefits.
[Sarkozy] argues that we have to work longer because we are living longer,” said Christian Renard, an electrician. “But I say we are living longer because of the hard-won social conditions and benefits that were fought for. If we no longer have them, who is to say that life expectancy will not fall, as it has in Russia?”
Some students who joined the protests think the cuts will make it harder for them to find work when the enter the job market because workers will be waiting longer to retire.
“All of us want to get good jobs,” said Alexandre, a middle-school student. “I don’t want to be out of work when I graduate. That would be a big waste of time.”
Others see the pension cuts as a measure that puts the interests of the rich over the interests of workers. “The government says there is not enough money for pensions,” Juliane Charton, a high school student. “But it is a political choice where to look for it. If they did away with the many exemptions given to employers and bosses and imposed higher taxes on those who make billions every year it would raise about 72 billion euros, when the pension system needs 30 billion euros to (keep pensions at their present level).”
“This is about more than just pension reform,” said Pascale Heurteux, a union official. “It’s about changing the whole of society.”