Worried about the future, France’s young people are fighting pension reform
One of the most controversial elements of the French government’s controversial pension reform is raising the mandatory retirement age from 62 to 64, which is often seen as distant by young people. On Thursday, however, students blocked admissions to some universities and high schools, and a youth-led protest was planned in Paris as part of nationwide strikes and demonstrations against a pension bill being debated in parliament.
For a generation already worried about inflation, uncertain job prospects and climate change, the retirement bill raises broader questions about the value of work. FRANCE 24 interviewed Marc Loriol, sociologist and researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) Les vies prolongées des usines Japy (“Longevity of the Japanese Factory”) who studies the relationship of the French to the workplace.
France 24: What’s so special about the French and their relationship to the workplace? What motivates people here to fight for their rights?
Mark Loriol: Due to our social and cultural traditions, the French place more emphasis on the workplace than their counterparts in other European and North American countries. According to a study by the philosopher Dominique Méda, French workers are therefore more critical of changes in the workplace. The French expect a lot from their workplace; work is not just about money, it’s about personal fulfillment, a sense of purpose… so when people here are not properly recognized and compensated by the workplace, they feel deeply for it Harmful.
While the proposed pension reforms won’t directly affect young people in the near future, they have made their voices heard in protests across the country over the past few weeks. Who are they and why are they like this?
Mark Loriol: First, I would like to point out the huge differences between different groups of youth in France. You have college graduates who start their first jobs later and young factory workers who start much earlier.
Of course, this means they will be affected differently by the government’s proposed pension reforms. Those who started later were relatively unaffected by the increase in the statutory retirement age, as they already had to work longer hours (to accumulate 172 three months, or 43 years, for a fully funded pension scheme). But young factory workers, already at risk, will no doubt be hit.
On the one hand, young factory workers, despite being one of the biggest victims of reform, unfortunately belong to the working class who cannot afford to strike. Most of them are fixed-term contracts and some are even temporary. Going on strike or even joining a union is too risky for them. They fear it will jeopardize their already fragile careers.
College students, on the other hand, were more likely to participate in demonstrations. Often they have a great deal of cultural and financial capital that allows them this freedom. Even those with less financial means can find themselves involved in protests. Often from middle-class backgrounds, the students whose parents hold modest-paying white-collar office jobs are the first-hand witnesses of deteriorating working conditions and stagnant wages. So they fear the future, whether their studies will lead them to good jobs, whether they will be successful in life…the government’s pension reform proposals further exacerbate their desire to work more years on low wages of fear. The situation deteriorated.
Then you have students from elite universities (big school) from wealthy parents who usually freelance. These students, eager to follow in their parents’ footsteps in pursuit of high-paying jobs in fields such as law, finance and engineering, may be indifferent to the government’s pension reform proposals and thus more likely to avoid joining protests.
Also, you have to take into account the fact that most young people imitate their parents in terms of political affiliation. Studies have shown that young people whose parents lean to the political right tend to lean to the right themselves; the same goes for the left.
Youth protests swept across the Western Hemisphere in the 1960s and 1970s, severely altering our cultural landscape due to inequality, war, and human rights concerns. With ongoing wars in Europe, high inflation, climate change and potential pension reform, a similar backdrop appears to be shaping up now. Do you think it’s possible for massive youth protests like the one seen in France in May ’68 to erupt?
Mark Loriol: Of course, it is difficult to predict the future.For example, we consider the “yellow vest” protests 2018 Marks the end of unions, but look at them now. Check out Tuesday’s protest… tHey, they’re up again.
One thing I can say for sure is that discontent is breeding among the younger generations, especially among the working class. That’s obvious. The children of blue-collar workers grow up realizing that, despite their education, they are barely ahead of their parents in terms of job prospects and pay.
Although they got their diplomas, they didn’t achieve more, which translated into a deep sense of frustration and anger.
Whether this will trigger protests like in May ’68 we don’t know, but the government is taking a dangerous bet and hopefully this will pass soon.