Protests were taking place nationwide across France on Monday, Labor Day, in reaction to French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to raise the national retirement age from 62 to 64.
Workers’ demonstrations were happening around the world, as they do every Labor Day, but in France Macron is facing near record low popularity ratings over his mid-April approval of a plan to raise the age to qualify for a pension by two years.
In March, Macron had forced that bill through without a vote in Parliament, asserting that the two-year age hike in France’s pension law is necessary to guarantee the pension system’s survival.
French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne has backed Macron, arguing that France is suffering a deficit in its pension funds. She estimates the elevated age requirement will bring in about €17.7 billion, or $19 billion, annually by 2030.
France spends more on pensions than many other wealthy European nations. The government’s retirement spending was equal to 13.6% of its economy in 2021, compared to about 10% in Germany and just less than 11% in Spain, according to the 38-country Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Opponents, however, argue that the age increase will disproportionately impact blue-collar workers, who are more likely to have begun working at a younger age than their white-collar counterparts.
For the past few months, protests across France have disrupted traffic, garbage collection and university campuses as the hard-left CGT Union rallied French citizens to walk out of schools, factories, refineries and other workplaces.
“This May 1st will be a milestone,” said CGT leader Sophie Binet. “It will serve to say that we will not move on until this (pension) reform is withdrawn.”
The head of the reform-leaning CFDT trade union, Laurent Berger, has further claimed that Macron’s government was deaf to the demands of one of the most powerful social movements in decades, though on Sunday he did say that negotiations with the government would continue.
Police were out in force for France’s protests even as they have come under fire for plans to use drones to film expected disruptions in some cities.