Many persons contemplating touring in France in 2020 are anxiously following the current wave of protests relating to the French government’s plans to modify the pensions of different categories of public workers. At this time that includes more than forty different types of retirement plans, of which some are in tight financial straits and a few allow workers to retire as early as at the age of 52.
France, like many other countries in the West, grapples with a demographic phenomenon that is not uncommon around the globe: a smaller number of new workers entering the labor pool, insufficient in numbers to smoothly finance the growing number of retiring or already-retired workers, many of whom are now living longer than ever before. To resolve the resulting financial crunch, the French government wants to lengthen the number of years of employment required before beneficiaries are entitled to benefits. Naturally, the currently entitled are alarmed and do not agree.
Our reading of the resistance to these reforms includes the following observations:
- Reform is inevitable, because the French government will become bankrupt without it, and no-one seriously disputes this.
- French president Macron did campaign partly on the need to reform state-funded French labor contracts.
- The proposed reforms are relatively gentle and will be applied in the distant future.
- French unions, although still a force, no longer have the grip and ability to resist reforms that they once had.
- We expect the resistance to reform will subside progressively into the New Year and that those involved in the protests will relent with the onset of the end-of-year holidays. It will then be difficult to re-ignite the movement.
Of course, any prediction of Gallic temperament is fraught with risk, and we might be wrong. For a clue whether we are right, it will be useful to track the numbers of participants at the next major protest event, scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 17. The biggest support numbers turned out for the first day of organized protest, Thursday, Dec. 5, when 806,000 demonstrators nation-wide across France demonstrated in support.* 339,000 participated in the next one, Tuesday, Dec. 10, a drop of 58%. If the numbers fall noticeably again on Tuesday Dec. 17, we are likely to see the end of the movement soon. Already, one of the major unions, the CFDT, is calling for a Christmas truce.
* The number of participants in strike events in France is always disputed by the police and the French labor unions who routinely accuse the police of deliberately under-estimating their numbers.