By TOM GILL
PRESSURE is building on the Right-wing Government of JeanPierre Raffarin to withdraw a Bill that will slash pensions in France’s public sector.
The country is bracing itself for more strikes next week after French air-traffic controllers and teachers spearheaded this Tuesday’s industrial action in the public sector which closed schools and caused serious disruption for travellers throughout Europe.
The French action mirrors protests throughout the continent against pension reform, but contrasts with Britain where demands for better old-age pensioms have failed to translate into mass mobilisations, despite the fact that British pensioners are among the poorest in the European Union and certainly poorer than their French counterparts.
The controversial draft pensions law, due to go before the French Parliament next month, calls for the age of retirement to be raised.
Teachers, engaged in their ninth walk-out since the beginning of the school year, were at the forefront of the action, swelling the protestors’ ranks by 800,000. They are fighting in a separate battle with the Government over a decentralisation scheme under which 100,000 posts held by maintenance staff, technicians and school doctors will no longer depend on the education ministry but on regional authorities.
This is strongly opposed by unions who fear the break-up of a national teaching system.
Meanwhile, Francois Flinn, the Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, has claimed that France “does not have the means” to finance pensions , at current levels and that “there is no alternative” to his reform plans.
However, the CGT, France’s largest trade union, rejects an increase in retirement age and argues that pensions should be indexed to wages. The union’s view is that this could be financed both by cutting dole queues, which would broaden the base of contributors, and taxing profits derived from non-productive activities.
Fondation Copemic, a think-tank close to sections of France’s trade union movement, and anti-globalisation organisations such as ATTAC, say that France will continue to get wealthier over the next decade so pensions could easily be financed.
Under measures introduced by the Right-wing Government some 10 years ago, private-sector workers were forced to increase the number of years of contributions to gain a full pension from 37.5 years to 40 years.
Sections of the Socialist Party, the Greens and the Communists are committed to reversing this reform and all opposition parties support maintaining the right of publicsector workers to a full pension after working 37.5 years.