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Raffarin government attacks pensions France's Workers Take To The Streets
A HUGE demonstration of French workers called by the CGT union is expected to swamp the streets of Paris on 25 May. The demo is a continuation of the mass strikes and protests that have taken place this year against the right-wing government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin which is attempting to cut pensions and attack public-sector jobs through privatisation of gas and electricity industries.
On Monday 19 May teachers walked out affecting 75% of primary and 60% of secondary schools in protest at attacks on pensions. Hospitals were also affected by trade union action as was electricity production when state energy workers went on strike. Postal workers also took strike action and there were large public-sector workers' demos in Paris and Marseille.
These actions are despite the leadership of the 'moderate' CFDT and CFE-CGC unions agreeing to the government's pension 'reforms'. However, the CGT union federation and several other unions are continuing to resist Raffarin's attacks.
By 2008 public sector workers will have to pay contributions for 40 years instead of the 37.5 they pay now. That would bring them into line with the private sector, where the qualifying period was lengthened from 37.5 to 40 years by a law passed by Edouard Balladur in 1993.
For the ruling classes this is not enough. To guarantee their profits, they want to make a decisive break with the pension system. For now, the Fillon plan (named after the minister of social affairs) proposes to lengthen the period of contributions to 42 years by 2020 for both the public and the private sector. The principle, rather than the actual agreement itself, is important here as Fillon has declared that from 2008 onwards, the length of service will be revised every five years to keep up with life expectancy!
Furthermore, the government plans include measures to limit the actual amount of the pension directly by changing the formula on which the calculations are made. The plans foresee that workers who get the minimum wage (SMIC) will have to be satisfied with a pension that amounts to 85% of that wage, if they get the chance to work for 42 years and not have to spend a couple of years being unemployed.
Recent strikes by Austrian and French workers over pensions were mirrored by European Union workers in Brussels last Tuesday.
Fat cat EU Commissioner Neil Kinnock, the former Labour Party leader, angered workers by demanding that the retirement age for EU civil servants be raised from 60 to 63 years and the qualifying contributions period be increased by two years.
In The Socialist 24 May 2003: