FRANCE: PROTESTS PETERING OUT?


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Since 5 December, millions of French union workers and citizens have been protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to revise the popular pension system, creating the largest strikes and protests since 1968.
As reported last week, union members are feeling the financial pressure of being off the job for months, and, among them, those from the transport union returned to work.
While some unions members vow to continue the protest, Macron’s plan to unify the pension system, which will reduce some benefits and extend the minimum age for retirement, will likely pass through the parliament in which Macron’s party, La République En Marche!, has a clear majority.
Recently, a split among factions within the transport unions has emerged: moderates are seeking to negotiate with the government and others are looking to continue the more confrontational strategy.
The months-long protests have won a few concessions, among them an agreement not to push the age of retirement from 62 to 64 years old.
The government also recently claimed it would prohibit police from using dangerous tear gas to fight rioters and protesters, which has caused significant health damage. 
 
The Fight Goes On
In Paris, last Wednesday, a large group of demonstrating firefighters got into a physical confrontation with riot police. It was reported that some 180,000 protesters joined the demonstration.
About 60 percent of the French people still support the strikes. The current French pension system is the strongest one in Europe and one of the best in the world, with some 93 percent of retirees free from poverty.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: According to the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School, some 40 percent of Americans considered middle class will sink into poverty or near poverty by the time they reach age 65.
 
A President of The Rich
While President Macron’s pension reforms have been the most notable element of the country’s huge protests, demonstrators have made it clear they oppose the overall strategy of the government to initiate “austerity” plans, which will hurt working people and the poor and enrich the most powerful in the country.
Opponents of President Macron point to tax changes he initiated by which the top one percent received over 40 percent of the benefits. They also cite his background as an investment banker and his moves to privatize the country’s airports and large sections of the energy industry.

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