Hundreds of thousands of French people marched in a third day of nationwide protests on Tuesday against the government’s plan to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 while strikes and walkouts disrupted public transport and schools. Though turnout was lower than on previous occasions, young people – including many teenagers – continued to feature prominently in the rallies in towns and cities across France.
While retirement is a distant prospect for students and young workers mobilised against Macron’s planned pension overhaul, their opposition to the reform ties in with generational concerns about climate change, youth unemployment, societal reform and the widespread perception that governments are steadily chipping away at France’s cherished welfare model.
FRANCE 24 spoke to young protesters who took part in Tuesday’s rally in the French capital.
‘We live in a productivist society that is destroying our planet’
- Rose, 16, high-school student
It’s important to go out and protest because this reform takes us a huge step back. It will mean rolling back the social progress and rights won in the past.
We live in a productivity-obsessed society that is preoccupied with economic growth and which has been destroying our planet for decades. Now we’re being asked to work for two more years so we can produce even more. This system is wrecking our planet – it’s normal to rebel against it. Among my generation, we’re overwhelmingly concerned about the environment; we have no choice. But we know that small steps alone won’t change things. I’m vegetarian, I recycle as much as I can … but if we don’t resist more, it won’t be enough.
I’m not very optimistic for the future, unless we profoundly change the way our society functions. That’s why I protest – and why I’ll still be out protesting in 20 years’ time. It’s not about young people wanting to skip class. It’s about our political commitment on issues that are fundamental for us.
‘We should be able to live longer and in better health, without working ourselves to death’
- Yannaël, 24, studies medieval history at the Sorbonne University in Paris
This reform is unfair because it categorises physically arduous jobs the same as any other. I can understand the need to balance budgets when the population is getting older. But any reform must take into account the fact that some jobs are physically more demanding than others.
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We should be able to live longer and in better health without working ourselves to death. Besides, if they’re talking about retiring at 64 now, what will it be when I’m 60? Will I have to work until I’m 70 or 75?
This is the first time I am protesting, because the government is pushing us too far. They refuse to listen to the people. (…) My aim is to become a teacher, but I’m worried I’ll be paid a pittance to do a difficult job with classes that are becoming ever-larger. That’s what I’m scared of and that’s why I’m out here protesting: to better our society and our future.
‘Will we work all our lives instead of working for a living?’
- Shaïma, 17, high-school student in Vitry-sur-Seine, southeast of Paris
I’m anxious for my parents and grandparents, but also for my generation. Will we even get a pension when our time comes? Or will we just work all our lives instead of working for a living?
I worry for my parents, who are both 55 and have work-related illnesses. They wonder whether they’ll live long enough to retire. My mother is a care worker and my dad works at the post office, sorting mail all day long. They both need surgery. If the retirement age is pushed back, will they ever get a chance to rest and enjoy life?
I worry for my own future too. I’m scared that I won’t find work after my studies because more jobs will be taken by older workers whose retirement has been pushed back. I see people all around me who can’t find work despite their degrees. Young people are also affected by this.
‘Older people should be able to participate in society without having to make money’
- Bertille, 23, neuropsychologist at a Paris hospital
This reform is the straw that broke the camel’s back. There comes a point when you start thinking, ‘are there any social benefits they haven’t rolled back?’ And when will we finally say enough is enough? Our hospitals are at breaking point, inflation is sky-high… and yet nothing changes. Now is our chance to force the government to back down, because this issue affects everyone.
Of course, we’re still young and retirement is a distant prospect for us. But the more we let them eat away at our rights, the less we will have when it’s our turn to retire. It’s everyone’s duty to protect our rights, to protect society’s most vulnerable, and to make sure we continue progressing.
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We should also remember that most people’s health begins to decline around the age of 64. After a lifetime of work, it is only fair that people should enjoy some time for themselves while they are still healthy and able to participate in society without having to make money. It’s what many elderly people already do: looking after others and playing active roles in charities. It might not be lucrative, but it’s beneficial.
‘There are other ways to finance pensions, like taxing the ultra-rich’
- Amélie, 21, studies sociology at the university of Paris Cité
People say the young are lazy and don’t want to work – but it’s not true. My generation has been hit hard by Covid and the situation hasn’t improved. Most of my fellow students have to work to pay for their studies. And we have no guarantee we’ll find jobs with decent salaries after we graduate.
I think the government’s reform presents us with a false dilemma. There are other ways of financing our pension system, like taxing the ultra-rich, restoring the wealth tax that Macron’s government scrapped, and giving proper contracts to delivery workers who currently have no job protection and do not pay into the system. We could also hike wages and thereby increase pension contributions.
The vast majority of the French are opposed to this reform. It should be cancelled, full stop.
This article was translated from the original in French.
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